By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MONROE - A slow national economy and fast population growth are draining budget money meant for Monroe's police and fire departments, say city officials.
This week, Monroe City Council heard a report from an auditing firm saying that the city had a deficit of $3.1 million as of December 2002, and that several city funds have been operating in deficit since then while drawing from the city's general fund.
Representatives from BKD auditors of Cincinnati told council members that the city needs long-term budget forecasting and may want to consider cuts in services to cover the deficits in the city's operating budget, which now totals about $14 million annually.
BKD officials said their audit of the city will be completed next month.
But Mayor Mike Morris said council members might also consider asking voters to consider raising taxes to fund the increasing demands being made on the city's police and fire departments.
"Our major expenses are police and fire. At some point, we'll have to ask the people to make a choice of do we continue these services or do we cut back," said Morris, who cautioned that any discussion of additional taxes is preliminary.
"We're at a crossroads, not a crisis," he said, adding that BKD's final audit will help guide city council's decision.
Monroe's population has increased from about 4,500 in 1990 to more than 8,500, and in 2002 police runs in the city were up 22 percent from the previous year, both record highs since Monroe became a city in 1995.
Monroe Police Chief Ernest Howard reported to council Tuesday that in the first quarter of this year, police runs are continuing at an even more frequent rate.
While there has been no increase in serious crimes in the city, Monroe's location - midway between Cincinnati and Dayton - attracts a large transitory population of travelers going through the city on some of Greater Cincinnati's busiest roads, including Interstate 75, Ohio 63, Cincinnati-Dayton Road and Ohio 4.
Monroe Finance Director David Collins characterized the budgetary shortfalls in police and fire services as largely due to the "growing pains" of the expanding city but also cited looming state budget cuts as making the problem worse.
Collins said $250,000 in state funding for Monroe "could go away in the next two years" under cuts being considered by the Ohio Legislature.
"We're going to have to continue to make up for revenue loss from the state," he said.
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