Council members call special session to discuss budget options - Cincinnati News, Weather, Sports from FOX19 NOW-WXIX

Special session held to discuss city budget deficit


City council members met Thursday for a special session to discuss the city's looming $35.2 million projected deficit.

Council members P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach say they called for the special session to get answers from the city administration as to why they have not pursued other proposals in dealing with the budget deficit.

"The reality is that positive, preferable alternatives have been offered and do exist," said Sittenfeld. "The City Administration needs to offer real answers for why they won't go forward with better options that don't involve their plan to gut our safety forces."

"Last year we spent $100,000 on getting the public's input on budget priorities, yet have not used those results to balance our budget," said Seelbach.

During the meeting members of the administration maintained they did consult the priority budgeting results to help craft their current budget plan.

Council members fired off budget questions for over an hour as they tried to figure out the best way forward while faced with looming layoffs.

"Why has a plan not been brought forward that uses casino funds?" Sittenfeld questioned the City's budget director.

"We are considering using casino revenue and the plan is to do that," Lea Eriksen responded.

Eriksen says the city has suggested using $5 million of the anticipated $10 million in casino revenue to help plug the $35.2 million budget hole, but says council members will need much more if they want to avoid the bulk of the proposed fire and police layoffs.

Seelbach questioned Assistant City Manager David Holmes whether it was possible to solve the budget issue without the parking lease or "Plan B".

"The answer is yes," Holmes said. "There are other options out there, but mathematically they have to add up."

The administration says it is "mathematically impossible" to make the cuts without touching public safety.

"If there's one thing I do take away from today, there are options. Using casino revenue is an option, using capital dollars to pay for some of our personnel is an option, using revenue from the parking system is an option," Sittenfeld said. "To pretend there are not other options I do believe is disingenuous."

"What's disingenuous is to create a crisis and then criticize the administration for its response to the crisis," Mayor Mark Mallory said at the end of Thursday's meeting. Mallory criticized council members for calling the special session and stood squarely behind the work of the City's Administration.

"I get angry because I don't like it when our professionals are accused of being unprofessional," Mallory said. "I don't like it when our professionals are accused of being unprofessional. I don't like it when our professionals are being accused of being inept. They are not."

"When the administration brings us two bad options; shame on us if we take one of them," Sittenfeld said. "Our job is to be resourceful, creative, make some difficult decisions and put basic services first."

Other council members like Mallory, however, seemed to stand behind the work of the administration to balance the budget in difficult times.

"We are not playing here," Yvette Simpson said. "Our directors are doing what they are allowed to do within the bounds of the law, reason, and certainly what is required of them."

Currently Eriksen says 64% of the city's General Fund budget is made up of police and fire and 81% is personnel costs city-wide. She says in addition to the $35.2 million there will also be additional costs associated with layoffs like payout of accrued leave and unemployment insurance that could total up to $10 million.

While the City Administration recommends a budget it is ultimately up to city council to vote on it. Holmes says any viable option must be able to be in place by July 1.

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