Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Money crunch squeezes police

City budget cuts due next week

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Police and fire officials are struggling to come up with a way to cut 1 percent from budgets by July 19 — and that's the good news.

        They — along with every other city department — must also cut next year's budget by 5 percent to offset a projected $17.7 million shortfall in 2002.

        “The police division is tasked with providing police services to this community,” said Police Col. Richard Janke. “That will occur.”

   Proposed cuts recommended by City Manager John Shirey to balance next year's city budget:
   • Reduce all 2001 city department budgets by 1 percent.
   • Reduce 2002 budgets by 5 percent.
   • Delay transfer of $6 million that is to go for riverfront street grid project.
   • Save $2 million by reducing the number of lane miles repaired under the street rehabilitation program from 115 to 100 miles.
   • Reduce neighborhood housing funds to pay for market-rate developments by $1 million.
   • Reduce neighborhood business district projects by $1 million.
   • Reduce capital projects and seek funds outside the city to pay for them.
   • Delay the transfer of $5 million for the convention center for one year.
   • Reduce contribution to city pension fund.
        Col. Janke did not give details about where the cuts in the department will take place, but he said budget woes should not interfere with daily operations.

        “We will do the absolute best to never let any of that stuff interrupt (services),” he said.

        City Manager John Shirey is asking all departments to submit plans for the first rounds of cuts next week. A list of even deeper cuts next year is due Aug. 10.

        “It's not going to be pleasant in the city,” said Fire Chief Robert Wright. “It's not going to be pleasant at all.”

        He said the fire department is also looking to cut in areas that won't affect service. But if the cuts go too deep, he said, it could lead to abolishing fire companies.

        The city has about 40 fire companies, 26 engines, 13 ladder trucks and one heavy rescue vehicle.

        If cut, the staff would be reassigned, Chief Wright said. Five percent of the department's $50 million budget would total $2.5 million.

        “We haven't compromised any safety issues,” he said, adding that cuts have focused primarily on training.

        Mr. Shirey has for months been warning about falling city revenues.

        In a June report, Mr. Shirey told City Council that earnings taxes were $25 million less than estimated for the 2000-02 budget cycle. Earnings taxes account for 61 percent of the city's $300 million general fund, which pays for essential services such as fire and police.

        Those living or working in the city pay 2.1 percent of their wages in city earnings tax. Earnings of sole proprietors and partners and the net profit of corporations are taxed at the same rate.

        Last year, earnings taxes were nearly flat, bringing in $247.9 million compared with $247.4 million in 1999. Mr. Shirey said earnings taxes now trail last year by 0.2 percent.

        The result: Without changes, Cincinnati will end 2001 with $5 million in a carry-over balance and face a $17.7 million deficit in 2002.

        Mayor Charlie Luken acknowledged the money crunch, but said Tuesday he is committed to continuing several community policing programs.

        “I want to underscore the most vital part of our circumstance right now is to keep staffing at the minimum 1,000 officers on the street,” he said. “With all things we are recommending with community policing and interaction with residents, I am committed to seeing to it that the safety budget is protected.”


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