Police defunding the focus of first public input session on city budget

Public input sessions for city budget begin Tuesday night

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati City Council has two weeks to pass a balanced budget for the next fiscal year.

It’s no small task as the city faces a historic deficit, an ongoing public health crisis, and public pushback on funding for the city’s police department.

City Council held the first of three public input sessions at Duke Energy Convention Center Tuesday evening. Dozens showed up in person, while hundreds called in over Zoom.

The next two sessions will be held Thursday 4 p.m.-midnight and Friday noon-midnight.

Councilperson P.G. Sittenfeld expects a big turnout.

“I want to hear from what I trust will be hundreds, if not thousands, of community members, and then work collaboratively with my colleagues to put something forward,” he said prior to Tuesday’s meeting. “Bring your pajamas to the convention center tonight.”

Sittenfeld continued, “Of course, it’s an unbelievably difficult budget. This is the biggest budget deficit in the history of the city, at least in the modern history of the city. I think what we want to reflect back to the community is the priorities that they hold.”

City of Cincinnati public hearings for 2021 operating budget

Early in the calendar year, the city forecasted record tax income and a deficit of just $12 million, according to a presentation by outgoing City Manager Patrick Duhaney.

Due to the pandemic, city income tax revenue was revised down $41 million and revenue from other sources declined $20 million, leading to a $73 million deficit.

In that context, Mayor John Cranley unveiled his $412 million general fund budget proposal last week. It bridges the deficit in various ways, though major cuts are averted.

That’s thanks in part to a $25 million emergency bond issue to support basic services expenditures that faced elimination due to declining revenues, including police, fire, and health services. The money is authorized as a one-time source for the fiscal year 2021 general fund operating budget.

Better news on the budget front came Tuesday when Hamilton County said it will disburse $17 million in CARES Act money to the city. An emergency ordinance from Duhaney set to go before council Wednesday proposes to use that money to offset any expenditure of the emergency bonds mentioned above, saving the city on future interest payments.

City of Cincinnati general fund expenditures FY2021
City of Cincinnati general fund expenditures FY2021 (Source: City of Cincinnati)

Cranley’s budget notably includes a $1 million investment in the Urban League to work with small businesses that have been hurt by the shutdowns.

It also includes an increase of nearly $1 million for CPD, which already accounts for 37.1 percent of the general fund budget.

Protesters are calling for the city to ”defund the police,” but much of CPD’s budget uptick comprises wage increases built into the FOP labor agreement.

Also included are $1.4 million for the body camera contract and $400,000 in overtime costs (due in part to the protests).

To offset CPD’s budget increases, the department is delaying its next recruiting class from Nov. 2020 to June 2021, resulting in $1.2 million in savings.

CPD is also holding vacant 15 full-time equivalent civilian positions for 2021, resulting in $2.4 million in savings.

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