With a $29 million dollar deficit facing them, Hamilton County commissioners are going out into the community to find out what is important to residents, and what isn't. Commissioners held the first of three public hearings Thursday night.
County Administrator Jeff Aluotto has submitted his proposal for closing the budget gap, through $21 million in cuts and $8 million worth of new revenue.
Public safety spending is the biggest target for cuts. The Sheriff's budget would be cut by $8.6 million, which would mean the elimination of sheriff patrols in some Hamilton County townships. Jeff Capell of Blue Ash spoke in favor of that cut Thursday night.
He says most local governments in the county already pay extra for the patrols. "It's time for the few remaining out there who aren't to join in," he says. "This has been talked about for about 10 years now. The few who aren't paying have had more than enough time to figure out exactly what funding they're going to use to assume that cost. It's just simple fairness at this point."
Spending on Hamilton County's 911 communications center would be cut by nearly $250,000. The amount the county charges communities for each call to 911 would increase by $3.
Steve Ashbrock of the Hamilton County Fire Chiefs Association says the increase comes after cities, villages and joint fire districts have approved a budget. He says a higher fee could cost communities as much as $100,000 a year. "You're reducing the dollars available for personnel, facilities and equipment by those jurisdictions, and serves as a continuing disincentive for participation in the shared center. It's a bad idea."
Ashbrock says the fire chiefs are willing to work with commissioners to find a different way to fund the 911 center.
The county's spending on economic development also takes a $818,000 hit under the proposed budget. The Port Authority would lose the lion's share: $325,000.
Eric Hunn says the Port helped him take his small business from two employees to 10. Hunn's Construction works with the Port to redevelop vacant houses. "We turn those houses into functional houses that are put back into the city. Working with the Port Authority, we're allowing them to put these houses back on the market."
The item that got the most attention at Thursday's hearing was one of the smaller budget cuts. Administrator Aluotto recommended trimming the $29,000 that pays for a 4-H educator. Nearly a dozen people, including some children, called for the funding to be restored.
The next public hearing is Wednesday, November 7, at 11:30 a.m. at the County Administration Building, at Court and Main Street, in Cincinnati. The final hearing is Tuesday, November 13, at a location yet to be determined. Commissioners hope to have a budget approved before the end of the month.