There are few surprises in the proposed 2019 Hamilton County budget. Commissioners knew for months there was a nearly $29 million deficit, and Administrator Jeff Aluotto warned repeatedly that without a new revenue source, balancing the budget would come down to cuts.
So, Monday's unveiling of Aluotto's proposed budget wasn't a huge shock to anyone. It includes roughly $21 million in cuts and $8 million in new revenue in the form of fee hikes.
"When you compare to past budgets, this is an easier budget to construct," Aluotto says. "It was about a year ago I was sitting in front of the board and said that I could provide you with a structurally balanced budget today, but I was concerned about its ability to be implemented and I was concerned about its consistency with community priorities and board policy direction and county policy direction."
Aluotto presented a balanced $237 million general fund budget but admits "that there is just no way to deliver a budget that would not in some shape or form have impacts with budgets and services to all county operations."
Public safety spending takes the biggest hit among the cuts. The Hamilton County Sheriff's budget is reduced by $8.6 million from 2018 levels alone. Those cuts mean the office cuts participation in the Heroin Task Force and the Fusion Center, and cuts treatment services at the Justice Center. Some townships will no longer receive free road patrols by deputies.
Economic development agencies will also receive less money from the county's general fund. Hamilton County Development Corporation, The Port, REDI, and the Transportation Improvement District will, combined, see their funding drop by $800,000.
The proposed budget does raise about $8 million for the general fund. Some of that comes from increased earthwork and building fees, and one mil added to the property transfer fee.
Public safety also provides some new revenue. Fees will increase for communities using the 911 dispatch center, and the cost of road patrols will go up as contracts with communities expire.
All but four of 27 spending departments would see their budgets decline. "What we've done here is attempt to construct a budget that keeps core, basic, mandated services functioning in the county, albeit at levels that are reduced from the past, and those reductions will be noticeable," Aluotto says.
Commissioners plan to hold public hearings on the general fund budget and hope to vote on a 2019 spending plan by early December.