Council to vote Thursday on budget


City Council's Budget and Finance Committee approved a budget motion Wednesday for fiscal year 2014 that prevents all firefighter and police layoffs.

"I do know that the votes are there," local police union president Kathy Harrell told FOX19. "I am telling our members and I said at our meeting last night that there are no layoffs."

Eight of nine council members signed the budget motion. Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan did not sign, saying the budget needed long term balance.

"I think it goes way too far to save public safety only at the expense of parks and the neighborhoods and the arts and the environment," Quinlivan argued. "The plan is not balanced, it's not sustainable, and I truly believe we are taking the wrong approach."

The motion partially restores funding to the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the African American Chamber of Commerce, the Port of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and partially restores funding for parks, human services, tire collection,  lead abatement; and extends cuts that Mayor Mallory made to his budget to the new mayor's budget.

The motion also restores funding to the Focus 52 fund to support significant neighborhood projects including the Incline District Theatre, the East Price Hill Neighborhood Business District streetscape, the Corryville parking garage, Jordan Crossing in Bond Hill, Cintrifuse in Over-the-Rhine, blight removal in Avondale, and Westwood business district projects. Westwood Town Hall will remain open.

"What this motion does is it shows the citizens of Cincinnati that public safety should be number one," Harrell said.

The motion also partially restored funding to the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance to perform energy audits, and to the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Film Commission.

"To continue the terrific momentum that Cincinnati is now experiencing, we cannot compromise on public safety, and this budget keeps our first responders on the job," Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said. "This budget clearly puts public safety first. We cannot tolerate more brownouts or increase the demands on our police officers."

The city faces a $35 million budget deficit, mainly caused by cuts in state funding. Approximately 60 city workers still face layoffs. To restore proposed cuts, the motion approved in committee increased furlough days for supervisory and leadership personnel; asked council to take the equivalent of ten furlough days through payroll deductions; reduced council budgets and extended cuts that Mayor Mallory made to his budget to the new mayor's budget. City employees who are not represented by unions will also pay a higher share of health care costs.

While the motion signaled the end of a roller coaster of proposed public safety cuts that has run on repeat for the last few years, some are worried the ride will only pick back up again in preparation for the next budget cycle.

"When can the citizens be assured that public safety is not going to be used as a pawn, that we're not dealing with this every year?" questioned Local 48 firefighter union president Matt Alter.

"We never bluffed, we never lied, but we found a way to come together to do the best we can to cobble together a budget that at least makes some sense for a short period of time," Wendell Young said, addressing council.

"I think there is a lot of room for improvement that this process feel transparent," P.G. Sittenfeld encouraged.

While he will not be voting for the budget Thursday, Chris Smitherman signed off on the motion presented Wednesday.

"That sends a message that a I support police and fire, but in the general budget we are talking about property increases, increases to our water bill … so there are other things in that budget that I just can't take that step."

"Council will still face difficult budget choices going into 2015. We must aggressively pursue shared services and move toward a path of fiscal sustainability. In the meantime, we must assure safety and continue investing in jobs and neighborhoods, despite the budget challenges we face," Qualls said.

The budget and law departments will turn the motion into an ordinance to be voted on by the committee and council on Thursday. Council must pass a budget by June 1.

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