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Council approves money for pedestrian safety, deferred maintenance in final carryover budget

City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Jason Whitman
City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Cincinnati City Council voted 5-3 Monday to give initial approval to about $7 million in spending in the final portion of the annual carryover budget.

The Budget and Finance Committee spent about an hour negotiating the final ordinance. Chair Reggie Harris says he's happy with the outcome after several weeks of discussion.

"This has been a really great process," Harris said. "We'll be making transformational investments in communities."

The spending plan includes about $296,000 for community pedestrian safety projects like speed cushions and curb extensions. Several residents advocated for pedestrian safety spending during public comment Monday.

"We need help, and we need all the funding we can get. And you can be sure that anytime there's a resolution or a chance to get more money, I will be down here in person again," said Barbara Didrichsen of Pleasant Ridge. "It's what I've decided to dedicate the rest of my life to — helping the city and my community be a place where I feel comfortable walking [and] biking, and I feel comfortable telling my grandson that he can actually take a walk by himself."

The plan includes $4.8 million for deferred maintenance projects, including asbestos abatement in public safety facilities. These projects were recommended by the City Manager's Office as top priority among the total $400 million deferred maintenance backlog:

  • Telephone system upgrades: $250,000
  • Lifecycle asset acquisition and replacement: $500,000
  • Uninterruptable power supply systems - GFCO: $250,000
  • Solar panel batter backup resiliency hub: $400,000
  • Public safety facility improvements - GCFO: $1 million
  • Fire training facility/tower - GF: $500,000
  • ARC Flash Hazard Mitigation: $400,000
  • City facility asbestos abatement: $1 million
  • Fleet replacement - SWAT Truck: $500,000

Council Member Jeff Cramerding voted against the motion, saying the specific projects identified are not as urgent as other needs.
"We've got three rec centers where the roofs are leaking that our kids can't play," Cramerding said. "We've got at least 10 playgrounds that are failing, and our kids can't play. And that is not reflected in this budget."

Lastly, the carryover spending motion includes two projects that won't officially be allocated until council gets more information: $1 million for a "quick strike" acquisition program through HomeBase Cincy (an organization that supports community development corporations) and $1 million for a home ownership initiative through the Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses CDC.

Council Member Liz Keating pushed for more detail on those projects.

"This council has worked so hard in creating more transparency and more discipline in how we give our money out to third parties and partners, having these groups apply with an RFP [request for proposals] to give very specific projects, give us the strategy, share the budget, give us metrics that we can track to make sure the money is spending the right way," Keating said. "We've spent two years working on that and getting to that point, and then all of a sudden, we're not going to follow that anymore. And I think that is extremely unfair to all the other organizations that have asked for money and have followed the rules."

Harris proposed an amendment to the motion allowing the two items to be earmarked for the stated purpose but not allocated until each organization presents a full plan to the Budget and Finance Committee.

Council Members Liz Keating and Meeka Owens also opposed the motion. Owens tried to carve out $1 million for a Rapid Response Pilot Program to respond to gun violence in the city, but failed to get a second on her motion to do so. Separately, the committee approved a request that the City Manager's Office prepare a report on how such a pilot program might work and how much it would cost to implement.

The motion is expected to get a final vote in council's regular meeting Wednesday. The plan won't be final until council votes on the ordinance version, likely next week.

Most of the carryover budget had already been allocated to several reserve accounts, plus $5 million to the affordable housing fund and $2 million for the chronically under-funded pension fund.

RELATED: Cincinnati's 'rainy day fund' meets the recommended amount for the second time ever

Council voted two weeks ago to approve another $3.8 million in funding recommended by Mayor Aftab Pureval: $1.6 million for industrial site redevelopment in the Mill Creek corridor; $2 million for community development initiatives in the West End; and $250,000 toward a new facility for Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.

Federal stimulus spending

The Budget and Finance Committee also voted Monday to spend about $140,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act federal stimulus. The money was previously allocated to programs that have now concluded, leaving a bit leftover to spend on new programs.

The ordinance allocates $59,000 to Cincinnati Works to enhance employment connections and the Phoenix Program, a initiative to end gun violence through mentoring and leadership opportunities.

$20,000 is allocated for the city’s work with Adopt-A-Class, a local nonprofit that matches businesses, local government and civic groups with a class of students. The City Manager’s Office recently announced the expanded partnership with Adopt-A-Class means there are now 30 classroom teams comprised of city staff.

The remaining $59,796 is allocated to 3CDC’s GeneroCity513 program, which previously received $75,000 in the current city budget. Programming includes a jobs van four days a week, which offers a day of work to people Downtown who are panhandling or living outdoors. Participants are paid $9 an hour in cash and offered a free lunch; they work on “community beautification efforts.” Separately, the program offers strategic case management to people experiencing homelessness.

The ordinance, proposed by City Manager Sheryl Long, passed 8-0 in committee and is expected to get a final vote of full council on Wednesday.

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.