Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Hamilton in fiscal distress

Budget deficit at $1.5M

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — A $1.5 million budget deficit means three city pools will be closed next summer, some street repaving projects won't happen and a housing rehabilitation project will be curtailed sharply, if not eliminated.

        The city also likely will leave about 20 positions vacant as it strives to make up the 2001 deficit.

        “I don't know know of anyplace else that you can make any other cuts ... other than (existing) personnel,” City Manager Steve Sorrell told City Council members during a budget session last week. There are about $470,000 worth of vacant positions, “and I'm suggesting none of those be filled.”

        Mr. Sorrell said the budget will be presented to City Council for final approval within two months.

        The projected shortfall results largely from the decrease in payroll and other taxes because of the loss of jobs at Ohio Casualty Group this year, and International Paper's announcement that it would close its Knightsbridge complex. The city's annual budget is about $222 million.

        The Eastview, Lindenwald and Wilson Park pools are scheduled to be closed. The Booker T. Washington Community Center and North End pools will remain open. The city also is trimming its playground program and will not make a $25,000 contribution to the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. In addition, department heads and chiefs were asked to trim a total of about $150,000 from their budgets.

        Vacant positions or those expected to become vacant that will go unfilled include two nurses, an electrician and two police officers.

        Councilwoman Kathy Becker expressed concern about not filling the two police positions.

        “We're short over there (and) they're stressed over there,” she said. “We're adding more (work), and we're not giving them more (resources).”

        As the city attempts to balance next year's budget, the picture for 2002 looks even more dire. Mr. Sorrell said the city faces a projected $2 million general fund shortfall for 2002 because of an expected increase in expenditures, additional layoffs at International Paper, a reduction in estate taxes and funding for workers compensation.

        “It's almost scary when you look at it,” Mr. Sorrell said.


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