For the sixth year in a row, Hamilton County’s budget will be getting some cuts. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners today approved $14.4 million in across-the-board cuts in a 2-1 vote, with Democrat Todd Portune voting no and Republicans Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voting yes.
The budget’s cuts will affect every county department, but they will not raise taxes. The plan will likely result in layoffs, according to the county budget office. The sheriff’s office is the least affected by cuts.
With a few revisions and tweaks, the plan is basically what Board President Hartmann originally proposed. Previously, Hartmann touted the budget plan by praising its “austerity” — a word that has lost popularity in Europe as budget cuts and tax hikes have thrown the continent into a double-dip recession.
Portune suggested an alternative plan that made fewer cuts and instead borrowed money against delinquent taxes.
By law, the county is required to balance its budget.
A vote on the 2013 Hamilton County budget is being delayed a week at the request of the sole Democrat on the Board of County Commissioners.
Commissioner Todd Portune asked Board President Greg Hartmann at a Monday staff meeting to push back the vote a week to address funding to juvenile courts and the county’s plan for future financial stability.
Hartmann, who earlier denied Portune’s request to issue securities to raise millions to balance the budget, agreed. He said it was important that all three commissioners agree on the budget.
Portune told reporters he wanted to see more funding for juvenile courts. The proposed budget would cut about $3 million from the juvenile court’s 2012 appropriation.
He said he also wants to see specific plans on how and where the county will invest in economic development. He and Hartmann disagree about whether that kind of planning belongs in a budget.
Hartmann had the proposal developed after commissioners rejected three plans from County Administrator Christian Sigman, two of which would have raised taxes. The $192 million budget under consideration cuts about $14 million from the 2012 appropriation levels without raising taxes.
The proposed budget makes a number of what Hartman calls “modest cuts” in almost every county department.
All three commissioners have stated that public safety funding is a priority. The Sheriff’s Department would see a small reduction of $27,033, bringing its budget to almost $57.5 million.
However, the department would also face an additional $4.3 million in expenses next year, giving incoming Sheriff Jim Neil an effectively reduced budget.
The Emergency Management Agency would get a nearly 40 percent increase in the proposed budget, up to $400,000.
The Board of Elections would see its budget slashed 36.2 percent to $6.9 million. However, its expenses would also be lower in 2013 because there is no presidential election as there was in 2012.
The proposed budget would bring the Department of Job and Family Services’ appropriation to $832,900 — a reduction of $10,360. However, that funding level is dictated by the State of Ohio and not the county.
The Hamilton County Prosecutor would also see a small increase of $37,597 intended to hold level its funding from 2012, as the department went over-budget. The prosecutor has the ability to sue the county over its budget appropriation, so the department typically maintains level funding.
After a year of campaigns, the race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is almost over. All eyes are on Ohio to decide the presidential election. In aggregate polling, Obama leads Romney by 2.9 points in Ohio and 0.7 points nationally. FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times’ electoral forecast model, gives Obama a 91.4 percent chance to win Ohio and a 91.6 percent chance to win the election. The New York Times also has an interactive flowchart to gauge both Obama's and Romney's paths to victory.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown leads Republican challenger Josh Mandel by 5 points in aggregate polling. CityBeat covered the policy and campaign differences between the two candidates in coverage of the first, second and third debate and a cover story.
Gov. John Kasich has taken a noticeable shift to the center and considered less divisive ideas in recent months, and some of that might be to help Romney’s electoral chances in Ohio. In the past two years, Kasich went from supporting SB 5, which would have limited collective bargaining for public employees, to focusing almost entirely on jobs.
While we focus on voting on Earth, astronauts in space also vote.
Hamilton County Commission President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, laid out his budget plan yesterday. Hartmann touted “austerity” as a prominent theme in the budget. Austerity measures actually led Europe into a second recession, according to prominent economist Robert Reich. This matches the opinion of other economists, such as Nobel-winning Paul Krugman, who argue governments should try to make up for shortfalls in the private sector through increased spending during recessions. Recently, the International Monetary Fund admitted it underestimated the bad economic impact of austerity measures. Still, Hamilton County is required to balance its budget, so the commissioners don’t have many options. Todd Portune, the lone Democratic commissioner, says he will unveil his plan later.
The new Jungle Jim’s at Eastgate is having a large, positive impact on its neighbors. The exotic grocery store has apparently brought a lot of new paying customers to the area.
Cincinnati’s Oakley neighborhood might soon put its traffic problems in the past. City Council is expected to vote on a plan Wednesday that would block three streets in the neighborhood. Residents have complained traffic is out of control because of development at the Rookwood Exchange in Norwood, and traffic could get worse due to the holiday shopping season.
Workers injured during the construction of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino are looking for a way around workers comp rules. The exemption-seeking lawsuit filed by four workers against 13 defendants is typical in Ohio law, which generally prevents workers from suing employers over workplace injuries since Ohio’s compensation rules provide ways to obtain missing wages and other potential damages.
Time Warner Cable is hiring for more than 50 positions in Cincinnati.
A new partnership between the Memorial Hall Society, 3CDC and Hamilton County’s commissioners may revitalize Hamilton County’s Memorial Hall. The hall is one of Hamilton County’s architectural treasures, but a lack of renovations has left it behind modern developments, including air conditioning.
Some of Ohio’s exotic animal owners are not happy with a new law that requires registering and micro-chipping exotic animals, so they are suing the state.
A Cleveland woman that drove on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus that was unloading children will have to wear a sign that says, “Only an idiot drives on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.” She will have to wear the sign at an intersection for one hour a day for two days next week.
On Sunday, an amputee climbed 103 stories using a mind-controlled bionic leg. Oh, science.
The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some taxes.
Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30 percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said.
He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.
Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000 or 0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3 percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5 percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.
Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic development is not possible without it.
Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.
Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.
Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.
Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own budget proposal as well.
“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.
The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by the following week.
He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.
“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different visions in terms of solutions.”
Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major party challenger.
Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s waiting for the election results.
“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking that’s what you were going to go with.”
Today is the last day to register to vote, and in-person early voting is underway. Register to vote and vote at your nearest board of election, which can be located here.
Hamilton County commissioners agree on not raising the sales tax. That effectively rules out two of three plans laid out by the county administrator. The one plan left would not cut public safety, but it would make cuts to the courts, criminal justice system, administrative departments, commissioner departments and the board of elections.It seems other news outlets are now scrutinizing online schools. A Reuters report pointed out state officials — including some in Ohio — are not happy with results from e-schools. Even Barbara Dreyer, CEO of the e-school company Connections Academy, told Reuters she’s disappointed with performance at e-schools. A CityBeat look into e-schools in August found similarly disappointing results.
Ohio Democrats are asking federal and state officials for
an investigation into Murray Energy, the Ohio-based coal company that
has been accused of coercing employees into contributing to Republican
political campaigns. In the statement calling for action, Ohio
Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said, “Thanks to this report,
now we know why coal workers and miners have lent themselves to the
rallies, ads, and political contributions. They’ve been afraid.”
Councilman Chris Seelbach is following up on information obtained during public safety meetings. The most consistent concerns Seelbach heard were worries about loitering and young people breaking curfew.
The state auditor says the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) could save $430,000 a year if it moved its student information database in-house. Current law prohibits ODE from having access to the data for privacy reasons, but State Auditor Dave Yost says it’s unnecessary and “wastes time and money.”
It seems Duke Energy is quickly integrating into its recent merger with Progress Energy. The company's information technology, nuclear and energy-supply departments are fully staffed and functional.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is renovating and restoring the Art Academy on the building’s west side.
It might not feel like it sometimes, but parking in Cincinnati is still pretty cheap.
Scientific research is increasingly pointing to lead as an explanation for people’s crazy grandparents. Research indicates even small programs cleaning up lead contamination can have massive economic and education returns.
Kings Island is selling off pieces of the Son of Beast. The troubled roller coaster was torn down after years of being shut down.
The “Jeopardy!” Ohio Online Test is today. If you’re ever on the show, give a shout-out to CityBeat.
Mayor Mark Mallory was not happy with Hamilton County Commission President Greg Hartmann’s Tuesday letter criticizing him for failing to follow through with a city-county shared services plan. Mallory fired back today in his own letter, criticizing Hartmann for going to the media first and explaining why he no longer supports the City County Shared Services Committee.
“We have had a strong working relationship since you have become Commission President,” Mallory wrote. “So, I was surprised and disappointed that you sent the letter to the media instead of sharing your concerns with me directly; after all, you have my cell phone number.”
Mallory went on to point out that Hartmann is the fourth commission president he has worked with, and the previous three “never would have handled City/County relations in such a confrontational manner.”
The mayor also clarified why he no longer supports the City County Shared Services Committee, which was meant to consolidate county and city services to end redundancies and improve efficiency and competitiveness.
“As the scope of the proposed committee’s work was developed, it became clear to me that not only were we already collaborating at a high level, but that several new collaborations proposed by the City had met resistance from the County,” Mallory wrote. “I began to question the need for a committee to conduct a $400,000 study of future collaboration if there were already potential new collaborations sitting on the shelf.”
Mallory also said he “will never give away the ability of the citizens of Cincinnati to control crucial City functions.” He cited the examples of prosecutors and health clinics, which Mallory implied could have been given off to the county if the committee pushed through its recommendations.
The mayor also pointed out that even if the city and county approved the committee and its recommendations, Hamilton County would still have serious budget problems: “You and I both know that the recommendations of the Shared Services Committee would never have resulted in close to enough savings to close the County’s budget deficit, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.” In other words, stop shifting the blame.
The rest of Mallory’s letter went on to point out Cincinnati and Hamilton County collaborate on a regular basis to “improve services, create efficiencies, and save money.” The mayor pointed to many programs for examples of the city and county working together: the Banks development, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Metropolitan Sewer District, emergency operations, the Port Authority, a $1.9 million city-county contract that has the county manage Cincinnati’s Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program Consortium.
Mallory also claimed there have been cases in which the county declined to collaborate with the city, citing the Indigent Care Levy. The county’s consultant recommended Hamilton County give some of that levy to provide county residents access to primary care at the City Health Center System, but the county declined the potential partnership.
Mallory then said he was willing to work on collaboration with purchasing, fire hydrant maintenance and economic development — three areas Hartmann cited in his own letter to Mallory.
The letter finished with a call to end the politics of the back-and-forth: “I feel very strongly that it is time to take the politics out and leave the matter to the public sector professionals. The City Manager is ready to meet with the County Administrator to discuss any proposed partnership that would improve the lives of our citizens by improving service, increasing efficiency, or saving money.”
In his letter, Hartmann criticized Mallory for not keeping his promise to back the city-county committee, citing a previous letter from Mallory to the Ohio Department of Development that promised $100,000 for the new committee.
The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners yesterday voted to keep senior and mental health levies flat. As a result, senior and mental health services will lose funding. Commissioner Todd Portune, the Board’s sole Democrat, offered an alternative measure that would have raised funding to levels providers requested, before voting with the two Republicans. Portune’s measure would have increased property taxes by $5 for every $100,000 of property worth.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released a new report detailing human trafficking in Ohio. The report found one-third of trafficking victims got involved in trafficking as minors. In all of Ohio, law enforcement officials topped the list of buyers for human trafficking. In Cincinnati, the most common buyers were drug dealers, factory workers and truckers. Forty percent of trafficking victims in Cincinnati reported being raped.
At the commissioners meeting Wednesday, a Jehova’s Witnesses group clashed with Harrison Township over land. The religious group wants to build a hall that they say will attract Jehova’s Witnesses to the area and bring in tax revenue, but Harrison Township is worried the building will cause too much disruption. The board will reach a decision in a few weeks, Commissioner Greg Hartmann said.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius praised Cincinnati Children’s accomplishments during a visit to a local medical center Wednesday. She also said the medical progress in Cincinnati “can now be mirrored across the country.”
The Ohio State Bar Association has declared opposition to the Voters First redistricting amendment. The association says it has “deep concerns” over getting the judicial system involved in the redrawing process.Local political group COAST has been misinforming its followers about the Blue Ash Airport deal. The misinformation continues COAST’s campaign to stop anything streetcar-related.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is among the top choices for presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s vice presidential list, but a new analysis from the New York Times shows Portman might not benefit Romney much. Apparently, Ohio voters either don’t know Portman well enough or feel completely apathetic about him.Ohio’s mortgage delinquency rates are falling. The rate fell from 4.73 percent to 4.54 percent. However, the average mortgage debt for individual borrowers went up in the second largest jump in the country. The average Ohio mortgage debt holder now owes $131,701, up from $126,503.
The number of swine flu cases in Butler County is still going up.Ohio school levies apparently struggled in the special Aug. 7 election.
The U.S. trade deficit is at its lowest in 18 months.
Apparently, the Olympic Village is a giant orgy.A new study is linking eyes to sexual orientation.
The dispute stems from a plot of land that, through some legal wrangling and a Joint Economic Development Agreement, Harrison Township officials say can only be used for industrial purposes that create jobs.
The Southwest Ohio Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses wants to build a massive assembly hall that they say would be a draw to the 28,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region and create jobs in surrounding service sector businesses.
The Hamilton County Rural Zoning Commission denied permission to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing fear over the impact to local businesses and traffic, causing the religious group to appeal the decision to the Board of County Commissioners.
Board President Greg Hartmann said commissioners would set a date in the coming weeks to arrive at a decision.
Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes lawyer Chris Finney represented the Witnesses before the board.
Finney argued that the Zoning Commission was wrong to deny permission to build the assembly hall. He pointed to the positive economic impact such halls have had in other states and brought witnesses to testify about the potential impact it could have on Cincinnati.
According to a slide show presented before the board, the hall could result in $1.19 million in annual tax revenue and create 421 jobs in the service industry surrounding the site.
Being a religious institution, the hall would be tax-exempt and would be staffed by volunteers.
Harrison Township officials argued that the area was created under a special agreement that requires industrial use and that any businesses located there create jobs and enhance economic development.
Mayor Joel McGuire said the township had offered up other locations for the assembly hall, but the Witnesses were fixated on the one.
“That’s why we’re in the all-or-nothing situation we’re in because they insist on this particular spot as opposed to the many other locations where there’d be no problems at all,” McGuire said.
Faced with the choice of raising property taxes or funding senior and mental health services at their current levels, the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners voted on Wednesday to approve a ballot measure that would effectively cut tens of millions of dollars from those services if passed by voters.
“It seems wrongheaded for us to ask citizens to pay more in taxes when their homes are worth less, when costs have gone up in their households and when in many cases their paychecks are down,” said Board President Greg Hartmann. “So we need to hold the line on those property taxes.”
The tax rate would be held at the levels passed by voters in 2008, which would be an effective reduction due to declining property values. If Hamilton County voters approve the levies in November, senior services would see a $7 million reduction in funding over the next five years — down to $97 million from $104 million — while funding for mental health services would fall $17 million from $187 million to $170 million, Hartmann said.
The money funds services such as meals on wheels, in-home care for seniors, counseling and drug and alcohol addiction and treatment services.
The board’s sole Democrat — Commissioner Todd Portune — made the symbolic gesture of submitting an alternate proposal which would have funded services at the levels providers had requested, but it failed without support from either of the board’s two Republican members.
Portune’s resolution would have increased property taxes by $5 for every $100,000 the property was worth. He said voters should be given the option to shoulder the additional tax burden. He later voted in favor of Hartmann’s resolution, saying the worst thing that could happen would be for voters to approve no levy.
Commissioners also approved a resolution to formally review all healthcare services provided by the county in hopes of saving money by eliminating any that were duplicated at the federal level under the healthcare overhaul.
Hartmann said he didn’t come to the decision to keep the levies at the current rate lightly and pledged to work with the recipients to manage the reduction.
Many of those providers appeared at three public hearings held in the last month and with near unanimity asked commissioners to approve the increased rates — which would have kept funding even by countering the money lost from decreased property values.
Patrick Tribbe, president and CEO of the Hamilton County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, didn’t outline specific cuts the agency would undertake, but told reporters after the commissioners’ vote that he would spend the next six months planning for the start of the next fiscal year, when the cuts would take effect.
The Tax Levy Review Committee had recommended that the property tax rate remain flat instead of increasing. It suggested that service providers reduce their administrative costs and find areas to increase efficiency.
Many of the providers who spoke at the public hearings said they had already cut administrative costs about as deeply as they could and had very little room for to cut further.