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Cincinnati's next budget will likely include more money for police and fire

Coats, helmets and other gear lined up at a Cincinnati Fire Department station
Becca Costello

No cuts are expected in Cincinnati's next budget, thanks to millions of dollars in stimulus from the American Rescue Plan. Council is asking administration to draft a spending plan that prioritizes staffing for police, fire and sanitation.

"If we do not increase our staffing, we're going to continue to see our overtime expenses go up and up and up," said Budget and Finance Chair Greg Landsman. "And financially, that's a problem. It's also just a problem in terms of folks being stretched way too thin."

The Budget and Finance Committee passed a budget priority motion Monday that the City Manager's Office will use to draft the budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, 2022.

The motion asks for:

  • Two police recruit classes: a 53-member class to start this July, and a 35-member class to start in May 2023
  • Two fire recruit classes: a 50-member class to start this October, and another 50-member class to start in June 2023

Both departments have had declining staff over the last several years, partly because of a high number of retirements. Those departments already make up well over half of the city's General Fund (police: 35.9%; fire: 29.2%).

The motion also recommends a plan to fill vacancies in public services and the Emergency Communications Center with signing bonuses and retention pay.

Council also wants to increase the annual pension fund contribution by $1 million. The city's retirement system has an unfunded liability of about $724 million. Pension fund officials recently told Council the annual contribution of about $40 million is not enough. The system is about 70.5% funded, down from 77% in 2015.

The motion asks for at least 1.5% of the General Fund to be put into the Human Services Fund, which allocates money to nonprofits working on specific priorities determined by council.

Council approved a plan in 2017 to incrementally increase the percentage for the Human Services Fund until it reached 1.5% in 2023. From 2004 to 2017, the city budget for the HSF did not exceed 0.8%.

Council Member Landsman and Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney are also hoping to establish a new process for giving money to nonprofits: a "Boots on the Ground" fund.

"The idea for 'Boots on the Ground' is really for some of the smaller groups that come in, community groups that have like a football team that they're working with, or a boxing team, for example," Kearney said. "Something that's not one of the larger Human Services Fund organizations."

Kearney says she's not sure yet how much money would be in the new fund; she says it would likely be administered by an outside organization (like the United Way administers the HSF).

Interim City Manager John Curp will use this policy motion as a guide to create the first draft of the budget, which is due to be released May 15. Mayor Aftab Pureval will have a chance to make changes before it goes to Council.

Council will have three public hearings for input:

  • Thursday, June 2 (time and location TBD)
  • Tuesday, June 7 (time and location TBD)
  • Wednesday, June 8 (time and location TBD)

Council must pass a final budget by June 30.

Full budget policy direction

  1. The Fiscal Year 2023 General Fund Operating Budget must be balanced. While continuing to strive to have a structurally balanced budget, the fiscal impacts of ongoing State cuts to the Local Government Fund, and revenue losses stemming from the pandemic, the use of one-time sources must be used to balance in Fiscal Year 2023.
  2. Given the projected $84 million gap between General Fund revenues and expenditures, federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds must be used to offset the projected budget deficit based on the eligible use of funds for pandemic related loss of revenue.
  3. Staffing core services, Police, Fire, and Sanitation must be prioritized:
    • Police and Fire should be funded consistent with bargaining agreements based on the departments' plans to reach their approved budgeted full-strength complement of 1,059 police officers and 859 firefighters. The Budget should include funding for a 53 Police Recruit Class to start in July 2022 with a second 35 member Police Recruit Class to start in May 2023. The Budget should include funding for Fire Recruit Class #120 with 50 members with a start date in October 2022, and for a second 50 member Fire Recruit Class #121 with a targeted start date of June 2023.
    • Public Services crews should also be funded consistent with bargaining agreements, with every effort made to fill vacancies, including signing and retention pay, and increase the number of crews to improve services and reduce staff burn-out.
  4. Other basic and core services should be maintained with recommendations to incrementally restore staff and services to levels necessary to meet the needs of our citizens as fully as possible.
  5. The budget should be prepared consistent with the ordinance passed June 21, 2017, which directs the City Council to increase appropriations to human services over a five-year period to 1.5% of the General Fund Budget. Specifically, the FU2023 appropriation should attempt to achieve 1.5% of the General Fund revenue estimate established as part of the Tentative Tax Budget (TTB) for the upcoming fiscal year.
  6. As part of an increased commitment to human services funding, especially in light of financial and related pain experienced by our residents in the aftermath of the pandemic, the budget should include a new "Boots on the Ground Fund" to support smaller non-profit organizations that are oftentimes closest to those who need support but are unable to successfully compete for funding as part of existing processes. We can not afford to leave these organizations out.
  7. The budget should prioritize efforts to keep neighborhoods safe (Safe and Clean Fund), pedestrian safety measures and all related maintenance, keep people in their homes (Eviction Prevention Fund), address litter and blight (HARBOR and new litigators to hold accountable problem properties and illegal dumping — pending report), offering jobs with career pathways as gainful employment for young people (Youth Jobs).
  8. As taxpayers continue to grapple with the costs related to severe weather events, the budget should work to fully fund the work of the Office of Environment and Sustainability.
  9. The budget must prioritize leveraged funding efforts that bring jobs to the City.
  10. The budget must ensure that our wage enforcement work is fully funded.
  11. The budget should maintain support for neighborhood groups, including Neighborhood Community Councils and Neighborhood Business Districts, and resources needed by the Administration to do community engagement and communications.
  12. The budget should include a fully funded greenspace maintenance budget that covers the needed maintenance requirements of all city managed projects.
  13. The budget should include an increase in our contribution to the pension by $1 million per year.
  14. Council remains committed to building a reserve balance of 16.7% of prior year General Fund operating reserves.
Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.