Thursday, January 11, 2001

Pollster may test support for levy

Hamilton facing $1.5 million shortfall in budget

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The city might hire a pollster to measure public support for a tax levy to boost funding for police and fire operations.

        “We can't really go out here and say, "We need this, and we know the citizens will support it.' We hope they will, but the only practical way to find out is through polling. And if they will support it, how much?” said Fire Chief Lyle Moore, a member of the committee.

        Funding for a poll must be approved by City Council. The cost has not been determined.

        The committee, composed of council members and police and fire officials, is concerned about how a projected $1.5 million budget shortfall will affect public safety services. Most of the police and fire services are paid for out of Hamilton's $34 million general fund. The two departments make up 65 percent to 70 percent of the city's general fund.


        The shortfall is expected because of a decrease in payroll and other taxes related to the loss of jobs at Ohio Casualty Group this year, and International Paper Co.'s announcement that it would close its Knightsbridge complex.

        In 2002, city officials are predicting an even higher shortfall — about $2 million. This is partly because of higher expenditures, a reduction in estate taxes, more job cuts at IP, and funding for workers compensation.

        This week, Smart Papers LLC announced that it bought the paper mill from IP.

        Finance Director Jim Graff said the impact of the sale “is going to be negligible because we planned on the plant being there.”

        Chief Moore said the committee also is getting direction from council about what type of levy it will support.

        Chief Moore said a levy would help the fire department maintain its current level of services and add a third life squad. The department's two life squads each make more than 3,500 runs a year, Chief Moore said.

        Officer Brian Robinson, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38, said the department has 122 officers, four of whom are in the police academy. However, he said, the FBI recommends the department should have about 150 officers based on Hamilton's crime rate.

        “For us, it's a huge safety issue,” Officer Robinson said. “And the citizens have come to expect a certain amount of service from the police department.”


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