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Council adds funding for nonprofits, swaps economic development priorities in budget

City Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Jason Whitman
City Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Cincinnati City Council voted in committee Monday to make several changes to the City Manager's recommended fiscal year 2025 budget. Council is expected to take a final vote on the budget Wednesday.

The budget motion passed 5-4. It removes a total $4,015,000 from the recommended budget for reallocation to several other uses. See the full list of changes at the end of this article.

Council is adding $860,000 for a new program related to the Connected Communities zoning changes passed last week. Council Member Reggie Harris says it will be similar to the recent "quick strike" fund, which gave grants to community development corporations for site acquisition.

"As we start to think about RFPs, site prep for anything of the land; making sure that we are putting dollars behind the development opportunities that are opened up," Harris said.

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The program will be developed and managed by the city's Department of Community and Economic Development, with more details expected in the next few months.

Another new line item is $200,000 for rental assistance. Council Member Meeka Owens says a current pilot program offering legal representation to families facing eviction has identified this as a need.

"We've prevented 52 evictions for tenants, and those are 52 households across the city," Owens said. "The average cost of rental assistance — being the number one reason that people are being evicted — is a little over $1,600 per household."

City Manager Sheryl Long's recommended budget included the first increase for community councils in several years. Council's motion removes $75,000 of the increase and allocates it to the organization Invest in Neighborhoods, a group that supports community councils and puts on the annual Neighborhood Summit.

Invest in Neighborhoods was left out of the City Manager's budget proposal. After the change, community councils will still see more money than in recent years: $550,000 total, about $10,000 each, compared to $425,000 last year.

Council's budget motion adds a total $805,000 to 14 external organizations through the leveraged support process. The city received over 160 applications for leveraged support funding, totaling about $31.8 million. The City Manager's proposal includes $4 million in grants; Mayor Aftab Pureval's adjustments add another $500,000.

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Supporting the budget motion: Council Members Reggie Harris, Seth Walsh, Mark Jeffreys, Anna Albi, and Meeka Owens.

Opposing the budget motion: Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney and Council Members Jeff Cramerding, Scotty Johnson and Victoria Parks.

Cramerding objected to removing funding from the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program and to more spending on leveraged support.

"In this budget cycle there was just not enough time for this Council to review this budget," Cramerding said. "I've read this budget several times; I've had some thoughtful conversations with my colleagues and administration. But there absolutely was just not enough time to have a thoughtful, deliberative process."

Kearney, Johnson and Parks objected to the inclusion of up to $400,000 for a Forbes Under 30 event coming up in October. Tickets for the event range from $500 to $850.

"It sounds to me, from what I've read about this event, is that a big part of it is networking; so that people interested can come in and get jobs and have opportunities with some of our larger companies," Kearney said. "So if they can't even get in the door, then we've got a problem. We're only serving a certain segment of our community — a more well-heeled segment versus those who have less means. That doesn't seem equitable to me."

Forbes held the Under 30 event in Cleveland last year, and will hold the 2025 event in Columbus.

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Harris and Walsh responded to concerns by saying Forbes (and Jobs Ohio, which is putting on the event) would have to present to City Council with a more detailed plan before Council gave final approval to the money.

"This is not just like a blank check, 'Here, replicate what you did in Cleveland, and then we'll just come here,' " Harris said. "We want to be a good partner to Jobs Ohio, but then let the administration be able to tailor the event to the needs here."

That could mean a certain number of discounted or free tickets for the city to distribute.

Mayor Pureval's budget adjustments, which Council gave initial approval to, includes $200,000 for the Forbes Under 30 event.

Council will take a final budget vote Wednesday. The next fiscal year begins July 1.

All budget changes

Removed from the recommended budget:

  • $2 million from the General Fund for the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program ($1 million remaining)
  • $500,000 from the Capital Fund
  • $500,000 from street rehabilitation ($12,957,500 remaining)
  • $380,000 from reserve for contingencies ($4,640,000 remaining)
  • $250,000 from pedestrian safety improvements/major street calming ($527,000 remaining)
  • $150,000 from Washington Park masonry and concrete repairs ($0 remaining)
  • $100,000 from Department of Transportation and Engineering for site assessments to Lunken ($0 remaining)
  • $75,000 from the Neighborhood Support Program (for community councils - $550,000 remaining)

Added to the budget:

Economic Development and Vitality:

  • $860,000 for Connected Communities Support Funding
  • $750,000 for major events*
    • Up to $400,000 for Forbes 30 under 30 (total $600,000 including Mayor's adjustment)
    • Up to $250,000 for Greater Cincinnati Sports Events Commission
    • Up to $200,000 for River Roots (total $250,000 including Mayor's adjustment)

*Contingent on two criteria: "all organizations must meet with the administration about implementation of the event and how City money will be leveraged and spent and have present [sic] the plan to City Council for approval, the allocated funding must be spent according to the voted upon plan within one year of allocation. The administration should also assess the feasibility of a pilot major events fund operated similarly to the Leveraged Support fund for FY 25-26 to fund similar events in the future."

Place-Based Initiatives

  • $100,000 for Hillside Regulation Revamp
  • $60,000 for Adopt a Spot

Housing Stability and Tenant Protection

  • $200,000 for rental sssistance
  • $150,000 for shelter diversion
  • $50,000 for landlord incentives for subsidy
  • $40,000 for Limited Representation pilot program

Capital Budget

  • $400,000 for stairway rehabilitation
  • $250,000 for Queen City Ave/Westwood Ave traffic study
  • $150,000 for Glenway Park accessible playground equipment
  • $100,000 for Montana Ave traffic calming

Leveraged Support

  • $100,000 for Activities Beyond the Classroom
  • $100,000 for Groundwork Ohio River Valley
  • $100,000 for Cincinnati Youth Collaborative
  • $75,000 for Flim Cincinnati
  • $75,000 for Invest in Neighborhoods
  • $50,000 for The Health Collaborative
  • $50,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • $50,000 for Literacy Lab (total $100,000)
  • $50,000 for Last Mile Food Rescue
  • $40,000 for Bethany House (total $165,000)
  • $40,000 for MORTAR (total $90,000)
  • $25,000 for CincyTech (total $250,000)
  • $25,000 for Cincy Smiles
  • $25,000 for LADD
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.