Hamilton County departments consider potential budget cut impacts

Budget hearings will soon begin for Hamilton County Commissioners following reports from various departments on how the projected $14 million shortfall will impact operations.

"I felt sorry for them," Hamilton County Coroner Anant Bhati said of his colleagues who are also facing the potential for a major budget shortfall next year. "I felt sorry for myself also because I just don't know what we can do to accommodate 10 or 15 percent cuts on [our budget]. "

"I definitely think people are concerned and rightly so," County Commissioner Chris Monzel said. "Here they have a tough job to do already and now they're going to have to do it with less money."

Anant Bhati says departments are already doing what they can to cut back and become more efficient, any more and he says services could be impacted.

"I can't see how anyone can manage with 15 percent cuts," Bhati said.

"To me public safety is paramount, one of the primary reasons for government," Monzel said. "For me that is something that we have to make sure we hold harmless as much as possible."

That means minimizing impacts on law enforcement and making sure the county's siren system is ringing loud and clear. A recent report warns, however, that budget cuts could impact siren maintenance.

"With this weather we've been having across the country it's something you don't want to hear," Monzel said. "I'm sure the commissioners will fight to make sure those sirens are working."

The warning bell takes on a different sound for the coroner, however.

"Everyone has its own problem," Bhati explained. "My problem is that I'm already behind in 400 cases of firearms and DNA so if you take some people more out I'll be further down in the hole."

He says if his department loses any employees it could impact the speed at which they process criminal cases.

"Those people might be going free or they might be taking longer time to get their cases heard," he explained.

The hope is that revenue sources will bring in enough money to avoid the brunt of the cuts, but only time will tell.

"I think we have to plan for the worst case scenario where that's not going to happen," Monzel admitted.

In the mean time he said time is on their side, even more so than when he was battling the budget from Cincinnati city hall.

"I actually find it refreshing that we're having these budget discussions earlier in the year having come off a midnight, one o'clock in the morning budget negotiations at the end of last year," he said of his time on city council.

Monzel also believes more can be done to trim down expenses without cutting into critical county services. He says changing state law to allow the county to do more business online rather than through more costly mailing and print services could save the county up to a million dollars.

Monzel's fellow commissioners say they are also optimistic the budget can be balanced with limited impacts to critical county services.

A public hearing to discuss the budget is planned for September 12.

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