Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Council curbs budget changes

Members avoid repeat of added spending

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Taxpayers won't be paying to equip a gym for overweight children the way they did the last time Cincinnati's City Council passed a two-year budget.

        Unlike what happened in 1999, when $14.6 million was added to the city budget for 48 projects, the spending package council will pass today will likely come with a maximum of $780,000 in additional expenses.

        And the city manager said Tuesday that he has already identified a source for those funds that won't affect other projects.

        Despite several dozen requests for money — to fund housing programs, job training facilities, playground equipment and business retention plans, among others — council members haven't made significant changes to a $2 billion plan that will gov ern all city spending over the next two years.

        “There's no comparison to two years ago,” said City Manager John Shirey, who in years past has seen his budget proposals loaded with City Council additions. “Two years ago, after the budget was passed, $14.6 million was added, which truly was a budget buster.”

        The budget's focus is on cuts. To offset revenue hits the city has taken in estate taxes and the city's earnings tax, which were estimated to generate much more this year, the manager has recommended cutting $52 million over the next six years.

        And after a nearly six-hour meeting Tuesday, council's finance committee made 11 additions to the budget — and in the majority of cases identified ways to get the money. For instance, the committee agreed to pay an additional $50,000 for the revamping of the downtown Emery Theater, but that money will come out of a fund for downtown housing.

        What council seemed willing to cut caused more controversy than most of the additions, including a proposal that would limit funds to the African American Chamber of Commerce.

        In a surprise motion, Councilwoman Alicia Reece said the African American chamber should be given the same amount as the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, about $200,000. Although council members were ready to give $375,000 to the African American chamber, a majority of the committee voted instead to limit funds.

        Councilman Paul Booth later reversed his vote, causing a tie that could be broken today. If the motion stands, that could leave the chamber struggling to fund its operation and pay for the annual Ujima festival.

        No African American Chamber representatives attended the meeting, but former chamber President Jim Clingman said the limit makes sense. He called it a matter of self-reliance and said the chamber shouldn't depend on the city.

        Among the projects council funded outside of Mr. Shirey's plan was $35,000 annually for the Flying Pig Marathon, $40,000 in 2001 to a senior citizen advocate and $75,000 annually to the drug and poison information center. It also gave more money than the manager advised to the Contemporary Arts Center, the Riverfront Classic and Millcreek restoration project, among others.

        Council today could also vote, over Mr. Shirey's objections, to fund inspection programs for day-care facilities and nursing homes. He has argued that Cincinnati is the only city in the state to provide the service, which is also done by the state. Council is also considering scaling back a planned 10 percent cut to its office budgets.

        Mr. Shirey said the budget additions could be paid from a $3.6 million rebate from the state worker's compensation fund, which the city pays into. The city is getting money back because of the limited worker's comp cases that were filed this year, he said.

        “The council has done a good job of holding the line. We have received as many requests, if not more, for additional money than we have in other years,” he said. “I will feel relieved if we can pass the budget ordinances (today).”


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