Lately, some who have criticized the Administrator's proposed budget have questioned this commission majority's commitment to public safety.
The Myth: because the Administrator's proposed budget includes cuts to public safety, the commissioner's priority is not sufficiently on public safety.
A close look at the basics of the County's budget, and the dire revenue picture, makes clear that (unfortunately) it's impossible to balance this budget without some budgetary impact to public safety and criminal justice services (without raising taxes, at least).
1) Together, the judicial (35.4%) and public safety (33.8%) functions of the county make up 69.2% of the county's general fund budget.
2) That leaves another 25% to be split among all of the following departments--auditor, recorder, treasurer, board of elections, commission/administration, engineer, public works, the building/planning department, as well as the facilities and human resources departments that serve many departments. Most of these functions are either mandated by law, or provide the necessary support for public safety and other functions (ie. facilities for jails, courts), or both.
3) 4% of the budget is for debt service.
4) About 0.5% of the general fund budget is dedicated to economic development efforts. This is far less than other peer counties in Ohio.
While the budget proposal cuts significantly into the non-safety/non-court functions (the 25%)--and our past two unanimous budgets have done so time and again--the magnitude of the cuts required ($40m) does not realistically allow for any budget (again, without a tax increase) that holds public safety harmless. Public safety is simply the overwhelming portion of the total budget.
This is particularly true when some areas--like the cost of energy, salaries in collective bargaining agreements, and debt payments--either can't be cut, or actually are increasing. And when the reserve fund that otherwise might have allowed us to get through this was squandered on 1) the Butler County jail rental deal orchestrated by Phil Heimlich and 2) the misdeeds of the prior coroner, and resulting lawsuits.
Two final points:
First, as we deliberate on this budget, we are still doing everything we can to minimize the impact on public safety. Hopefully a combination of options will allow us to make progress.
Second, the clearest indication that our priority IS public safety is reflected in our promotion of Issue 27 last year. If that plan had been implemented, the fact is that public safety (both corrections and patrols) would have essentially been held harmless in this budget.
As one speaker said at last night's hearing, we're still waiting to see the plan from those critics of Issue 27 who falsely promised the voters that we could 1) continue patrolling Over the Rhine, 2) continue renting jailspace in Butler County, 3) provide and pay for sufficient jailspace long-term, including replacing Queensgate, AND 4) pay for appropriate reforms/treatment programs--all without any new resources.
While those promises sounded great at the time, something tells me that we will never see that plan--so we'll do all we can to make the best of a bad situation.