How do you plug a $26 million hole in the city budget -- the largest since the recession?
City Manager Harry Black is recommending the city raise the cost of parking and building permits and is asking city departments and social services agencies to make $8.8 million in cuts, according to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.
But in his recommended fiscal year 2017 budget he avoided layoffs and closing pools, recreation centers and health clinics.
"This budget comes within a millimeter of closing facilities, having to lay people off and furloughs," Black said.
Black, as the city charter calls for, sent the proposed budget to Mayor John Cranley Thursday. The mayor has 15 days to review it and make changes before sending it to council for final approval.
Cranley declined to comment.
The budget also includes a dismal outlook for fiscal year 2019, which has a projected budget deficit of $19.7 million, which would mean a 4.7 percent across the board reduction to department and agencies.
The long term solution, he said, "is we have to pull a rabbit out of a hat."
Expenses for 2018 are predicted to come in at $395.4 million; revenues at $393.1 million, leaving a $2.3 million gap. The gap reflects one-time expenses including retirement payments for fire firefighters ($800,000), the primary election ($500,000), body cameras ($700,000) and Shotspotter technology ($200.000) to help the police department.
The budget had a $26 million deficit, created in part by $8.7 million in raises for the members of five city unions and income tax projections falling short by $15.6 million.
Council must approve a budget by June 30.
In December Council voted 8-1 to collect the same $28.9 million they have in recent years. Black implored council to raise taxes to 6.1 mills, the highest allowed under the charter, which would have meant an additional $3.2 million for the budget.
People who park anywhere in the city: The parking system is a big part of plugging the budget hole, with planned changes that will bring in an additional $2.1 million a year. Black's plan increases parking tickets from $45 to $60, which is expected to generate $900,000. The city will boot cars instead of tow them, which is expected to generate $600,000. And the cost of meters will go up too, on average a quarter an hour. That will bring in another $640,000. In the past council has been resistant to raising the cost of tickets.
People who want to build things: Black wants to increase the cost of buildings permits, which is expected to generate an additional $2.4 million. Doing so means building permits will cover the cost of issuing them.
People who need a hand up: Human Service funding would drop to $7.2 million, from this year's $9 million. "While these agencies provide valuable services to the community, few other places to reduce spending exist to avoid layoffs and service reductions," Black said. Of the five human services agencies and the United Way that get city money, only Strategies to End Homelessness was spared. given the same $45,000 it got this year. The mayor's Hand-Up program to battle poverty is being asked to ax $62,500 from the $250,000 it got this year. The Center for Closing the Health Gap, which was the focus of investigations about spending earlier this year by The Enquirer and WCPO.com, would see a 25 percent decrease in funding, going from $1 million this year to $750,000 next year. The group, which had asked for $5 million at one point, recently said it only needed $750.000.
City departments: They'll do more with less after being told to make $8.8 million in cuts, which for the most part varies from 3 percent to 7 percent. Police and fire, which account for two-thirds of the budget, will see slight increases. Despite Black's warning that most departments would have to make 10 percent cuts, only Community and Economic Development have to take more, slated for a 24 percent decrease.
The fight against blight: Black eliminated a blight removal program, which will save $500,000. "While the program has had success, it does not represent a core service," Black said.
The Black Agenda: This new political group sprang up last year, asking for $18 million to end disparity in the city. It's not mentioned in Black's budget.
Non-union employees: They'll get a 1 percent cost of living adjustment, but no raise.
People who like long showers: Water rates are expected to increase 3.75 percent, part of a 5-year plan approved by council last year to increase rates 3.75 percent each year for five years beginning in fiscal year 2017.
Parks: 3CDC is getting $375,000 to take care of Ziegler and Washington parks.
Road paving: Council two years ago approved a $100 million to fix streets and replace the city's fleet. And that won't change.
The elderly: The city is starting a new initiative to work on issues important to seniors and accessibility. This new position and office, proposed by Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and approved by council in January, will cost $112,470.
Union employees: Employees of five city unions are getting anywhere from 4 to 15 percent raises depending on their contract and salary step.