Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Council pleads ignorance, then restores nurses

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Some Cincinnati City Council members say they didn't understand what they were doing when they cut $159,570 from the school nurse program last year. So the Finance Committee voted 5-2 Monday to restore the cuts — with Republicans protesting that the additional spending will only increase the city's projected $27 million deficit in 2003.

        The bigger issue, they said, is how City Council approves additional spending after the annual budget has been passed.

        If cuts to the nursing program are not restored, the Health Department would eliminate programs that provide physical examinations to children without doctors and monitor vaccinations.

        Former City Manager John Shirey sent a budget to City Council last year that cut $289,000 from the school nurse program.

        Just before passage, Councilman David Crowley introduced an amendment to the 2002 budget to “fully fund” the school nurse program. The amendment passed.

        But the amendment only contained funding for two of the four nurses that were to be cut — with the expectation that the federally funded Empowerment Zone program would pick up the other nurses.

        What some council members didn't realize is that federal rules prohibit that kind of a budgetary shell game.

        “We're not allowed to supple ment existing budgets,” said Harold Cleveland, director of the Empowerment Zone. “We don't have a problem with them asking for more money if it's for an additional program.”

        Mayor Charlie Luken — who now has veto power over City Council — said if council members didn't know what they were voting on, they weren't paying attention.

        “I knew exactly what we did,” he said. “I do think that $160,000 is a lot of money, and if we're going to add this to the budget, I would suggest to council that we look at some cuts to be made.”

        The idea that City Council would spend money without identifying a funding source is so troubling to Councilman Pat DeWine that he's proposing a new council rule that would limit City Council's ability to spend money.

        Under Mr. DeWine's proposal, to be introduced in the Rules Committee today, it would take seven votes of City Council to spend money without making offsetting cuts. “Ultimately, this is about choices. If we're going to spend money in one place, we have to not spend it somewhere else,” he said.


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