Friday, November 16, 2001

Shirey's last budget balanced via cuts

City manager turns in his financial plan

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The 2002 budget that City Manager John Shirey sent to Cincinnati City Council on Thursday is just barely balanced.

        With the help of $11.5 million in spending cuts, some additional taxes and fee increases — and by burning through $7.3 million of the city's cash reserves — Mr. Shirey's budget would leave the city with a razor-thin $2 million carryover at the end of next year.

        The $993 million budget presented by Mr. Shirey is an update of the two-year budget already passed by City Council. But with the economy in a slump and earnings tax revenues 6 percent lower than expected, “this is not a routine update of the budget,” Mr. Shirey said.

        It's also the last budget for Mr. Shirey or, for that matter, any city manager. Mr. Shirey leaves office Dec. 1, and the new “strong mayor” system will make the mayor ultimately responsible for preparing the budget.

        Mayor Charlie Luken has already said he will send his own budget — based loosely on the city manager's version — to City Council this month.

        John Cranley, whom Mr. Luken named chairman of the Finance Committee this week, said it's the mayor's budget that will form the basis of debate at City Council.

        “To have unelected people setting our budget priorities is ludicrous,” he said. “The old system is finished.”

        Still, City Council is likely to incorporate many of Mr. Shirey's budget cuts and accounting tricks.

        Most city departments get a 5 percent across-the-board spending cut. The police and fire divisions will get less drastic cuts — less than 1 percent each.

        But some programs would be reduced even further or eliminated entirely. Some of those cuts include:

        • Closing six swimming pools, including Bramble, Owls Nest, Mount Airy, Laurel, Rapid Run and Rakestraw. Savings: $87,420.

        • A 50 percent cut for the Nature Education Program at city parks. Savings: $250,200.

        • Elimination of nursing home licensing, a service the state already performs. Savings: $190,130.

        • Trim the School Health Nursing program by about six nurses, leaving about 20 nurses. Savings: $289,720.

        • Abolishing the Office of Consumer Services, which assists citizens in complaints against businesses. Savings: $145,320.

        “In my opinion, we have not affected any essential city services,” Mr. Shirey said.

        He also suggests cutting street resurfacing by $2 million; aid for market-rate housing and neighborhood business districts by $1 million each; and delaying big projects like the expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center until at least 2003 — which probably would have happened anyway.

        There is some additional spending in Mr. Shirey's budget. Thursday, he proposed raising the hotel tax another 1.5 percent to bail out the convention center, which is losing money and could be broke within a year.

        The additional tax — which would bring the total tax on a hotel room in Cincinnati to 12 percent — would raise another $1.2 million a year. About $900,000 would go toward the convention center bailout, with the remainder to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau for marketing efforts.

        The tax increase already has the support of the Greater Cincinnati Hotel and Motel Association, which said the additional money is needed to help a local tourism industry hurting from the April riots and September terrorist attacks.

        “You never want to take your taxes up more than you need to,” said hotel association President Michel Sheer. “But this is the right and proper thing to do. What we can't afford to do is have a hiccup in funding for the convention and visitors bureau, nor can we afford to not have the convention center funded properly.”

        Mr. Shirey also proposed a 20 percent increase in fees for birth and death certificates, and added charges for emergency medical services that would bring in another $600,000.


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