Tuesday, July 09, 2002

County brainstorms creative solutions to tight '03 budget

By Dan Klepal, dklepal@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County's top money producers — sales tax revenue along with fines and forfeitures — are each off more than $1 million from last year.

        In addition, the initial bid for the county's health insurance plan for next year is 30 percent higher than last year, a $6 million increase.

        That makes what was a tight 2002 budget even tighter next year. The county's top officials gathered for a daylong retreat Monday at Paul Brown Stadium to brainstorm ways to deal with the situation.

        “This isn't rocket science,” Assistant County Administrator Eric Stuckey told the group, which included all three county commissioners and many department heads, but few other elected leaders.

        “You either increase revenues, reduce expenditures or find other money out there.”

        The session was the first step toward the county producing a $2 billion balanced budget for 2003. Of greatest concern is the $250.2 million general fund portion of the budget — two-thirds of which goes to pay salaries and benefits for the county's 6,000 employees.

        The ideas will be considered over the next two months before individual departments make their formal requests for next year. In the planning for this year's budget, requests came in $32.5 million over revenues.

        The ideas included:

        • Charge for Internet services and sell advertising on the county's Web page.

        • Reduce sick time.

        • Turn off lights and computers before leaving work.

        • Sell advertising for all county buildings and cars.

        • Use jail inmates to clean county buildings instead of hiring cleaners.

        • Require food stamp recipients to pass background checks at the sheriff's office and probation department before receiving the stamps.

        “It's important for us all to carry the message back that we have a problem and an opportunity,” Commissioner John Dowlin said.

        Commissioner Todd Portune said the session was successful.

        “We need to do more of this,” he said. “It makes an awful lot of sense.”


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