About 200 people addressed a Cincinnati council committee Tuesday night about the new city budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The hearing at the Duke Energy Convention Center featured a mix of testimony from people in the meeting room, sitting in seats that were socially distanced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and those who spoke remotely using Zoom.
As expected, many of those who spoke asked that City Council defund the police department. That's been an issue raised by protestors across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He died May 25 while in police custody, and his death has led to protests in the city and across the country ever since.
Many suggested cutting the police budget in half, and others want the police department funding eliminated or the department completely dismantled.
"Insanity is the city's pledge to reactive policing, continuing to throw more money, more military grade equipment and more police to try and stop crime," said D. Hamrick. "The proactive alternative would be to defund the police and redistribute that money back into the communities."
Resident and business owner Brandon Martin demanded that council start over with the budget.
"Fund fair housing, education and programs that empower our community," Martin said. "And when it starts cutting into the police budget, keep going."
Mona Jenkins said council is going to hear the same message at all the budget hearings.
"And if we do not see changes, you will see changes," Jenkins said. "Because we're no longer going to wait for you to do it, we're going to do it ourselves. And it's not going to be pretty."
Malia Jones said council has the power to make change.
"And I hope that you take this chance, I hope that you defund the police and reallocate those funds to the services you know you need to allocate them to," Jones said. "You don't need a room full of people to tell you exactly what you know you need to do."
Those who support defunding police would instead use that money for human services programs, health care, affordable housing and education.
The proposed police budget for the new fiscal year is $155,331,380. That's about $1.2 million higher than the current budget. Much of that increase is related to the FOP labor contract, and additional money for the body-worn camera program.
Some speakers threatened to "vote out" council members who do not listen to their demands.
Other speakers asked that City Council fund the health department, the streetcar, economic development programs, and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.
The chairman of the Citizens Complaint Authority (CCA) lobbied for additional funding for that agency that independently investigates complaints against the police department. The proposed budget does include additional money for the CCA to hire two additional investigators.
Last week, City Manager Patrick Duhaney released his budget for the new fiscal year. His plan closes a $73.4 million general fund deficit without layoffs, furloughs or closing any city parks or recreation centers.
It does require borrowing $25 million to balance the budget. Plus, a number of vacant positions will not be filled; there will be no raises for non-represented employees; departments will have to reduce non-personnel spending; and the city will offer an early retirement program to further reduce its workforce.
The city did learn Tuesday that Hamilton County will be giving the city $17 million it received from the federal CARES Act. That money will have to be used for COVID-19 related expenses. But it could mean the city will have to borrow less money to balance the budget.
City Council must approve a budget by the end of the month, and right now it's scheduled to vote on a spending plan June 24.
There's another budget hearing Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and on Friday starting at noon that could last until midnight. Both sessions will be at the convention center. People can appear in person or also participate remotely. You'll find information about that using this link.