Thursday, December 21, 2000

Council members add spending to city budget

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Less than a minute after Cincinnati's City Council voted on the city's budget Wednesday, council members started changing it.

        Despite hours of debate and dozens of decisions on who will get what from the city over the next two years, the first change occurred just after the $2 billion spending plan was approved.

        The move restored funding to the African American Chamber of Commerce that had been taken away hours before — ensuring that chamber officials would not act on threats to kill the Ujima Fes tival if their budget were cut.

        The reversal came when Councilman Charlie Winburn changed sides on giving the chamber $350,000 a year, saying he wanted to make sure that Ujima was funded.

        But Mr. Winburn was one of a majority of council members who had earlier argued the chamber's budget should be capped at $200,000 a year, the same amount given to the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        He said the chamber should be able to manage its office expenses and put on the Ujima Festival without requiring additional money. He also said during a budget hearing Tuesday that it was “time to pull the trigger” on the African American Chamber.

        But by the end of Wednesday's meeting, he was the swing vote to give the chamber $200,000 a year for operating expenses and $150,000 a year for Ujima, which was the amount originally being considered.

        “This is an example of silliness,” said Councilwoman Alicia Reece, who pushed for the $200,000 limit. “We can't take a stand.”

        She said she didn't intend to cut Ujima, but the chamber should be able to do the festival with $200,000. If not, she said the city could request proposals from organizations willing to do Ujima.

        But chamber chair Kathye Lewis said Wednesday that the chamber would not be able to do Ujima if the funds were cut. She also pointed out that the chamber holds licensing rights for the festival and has been issued permits for street closures — meaning no other group could host the event.

        Mayor Charlie Luken, along with Democratic council members Minette Cooper, Paul Booth, Alicia Reece and John Cranley, tacked on about $1.2 million.

        Among those were maintaining city inspection programs of day care facilities and nursing homes, which the city manager says is already being done by the state.

        These additions and others will be offset by $765,000 from a rebate the city is getting from a state insurance fund because of reduced worker injury claims. The remainder will be offset by transfers from other funds and a 2.5 percent reduction in council's office budget.

        Mr. Luken called the budget “historic,” saying it kept spending low while still providing services for residents.

        He pointed to increased funding for housing, neighborhood business assistance, street improvements and extra money to repair playgrounds.


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