Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Hamilton battling budget blues


Police, fire needs critical

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — As City Council members prepare the 2001 budget with a projected $1.5 million shortfall in the general fund, discussions are under way with police and fire officials about potential ways to increase revenues for safety operations.

        At the first meeting, held Monday in One Renaissance Center, members of council and fire and police officials discussed several ways to increase funding. They included charging people with insurance for ambulance runs; asking voters to approve a levy to increase the sales, earnings or property taxes; and securing grants. Participants also discussed maintaining or cutting funding for the fire and police departments.

        But participants walked away from the information meeting with more questions than answers, and agreed to meet again at 7:45 a.m. Dec. 11.

        “We left the meeting with a good sense that we understand that the financial situation is dire,” Mayor Adolf Olivas said. “We must be unified in how we assess the budget over the next few weeks. And we left with a lot of questions and the promise to meet again in two weeks.

        “No one of us has any direction as to how we're going to go,” said the mayor, who was glad the meeting had a positive tone. “I was concerned at first that there might be some divisiveness — the needs of fire versus the needs of police. And I didn't see any of that.”

        International Paper's closing of the former Champion International Knightsbridge administrative complex, compounded with the loss of jobs earlier this year at Ohio Casualty Insurance, has city officials projecting a budget shortfall.

        Councilman George McNally, who attended Mon day's meeting, said he does not favor a property tax increase.

        “That would impact on the elderly,” he said. “And they apparently have enough with rising costs and reduced income.”

        Bill Quinn, president of the city firefighters union, said fire officials want to maintain their level of services and add a third front-line paramedic unit. Police officials are seeking a new headquarters and several new officers to bring them to full staff.

        Mr. Olivas said he opposes cuts in either department.

        “The fire division is already at a bare minimum. They need a third squad, so I can't look at cutting them,” the mayor said. “The worst scenario for me is maintaining them where they are.”

        And the police division needs to remain near full strength, he said, because, “if we're looking at a situation where unemployment is going to be increasing as a result of Champion (now International Paper) ... crime follows suit. That is not the time that you want to have attritioning happening in your safety division. As the population gets older in Hamilton, more and more people are in need of emergency services. So that's not a good option, either.”

        The 2001 budget is expected to be ready by the end of February.

       



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