Thursday, December 4, 2008

Budget Myth and Budget Fact #4: Public Safety

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.

The Facts:

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.


Quim said...

Thanks for this series.

Anonymous said...

Myth: Phil Heimlich implemented the Butler County plan by himself.

Fact: Todd Portune and David Pepper voted for it every single time.

Anonymous said...

Please read Paul K's article posted today in the Cincinnat Beacon. It was informative to me a concerened citizen.

Also, should we really believe the hype over public safety? Especially since I keep reading everywhere that so much cash in been wasted in the Sheriff's Winter Wonderland?



Eli said...

I read your post alongside this article in the Enquirer about how Judge Robert Ruehlman sentenced two people to six month jail terms (in separate incidents) for swearing in the courtroom. I'm glad our commissioner, if not this judge, understands that we should incarcerate dangerous people, not those we're mad it. It's all the more true when we devote a third of our budget to judicial functions.

Like Quim, I appreciate this series.

Jason Gloyd said...

Mr. Pepper we were told over and over that Issue 27 had nothing to do with the general fund budget shortfall, therefore, sales tax proceeds could not have been used to deal with the current budget cuts. We were "These dollars cannot go into the general fund."
I think it is important to note this budget crunch has nothing at all to do with the failure of the jail tax.

David Pepper said...


Thanks for your question. My point in this was not to redebate Issue 27. The voters did speak clearly in the end, and given that message/mandate, we are doing everything we can to use the corrections and financial resources we do have as efficiently and effectively as possible. Our priority remains public safety even at this tough time, which was the main point of my post.

And I agree that we'd face a budget crisis whatever the results of Issue 27--due largely to the bad economy and lack of a reserve fund.

But let's be clear. Issue 27 would have funded the long-term public safety challenges we now face, and our public safety priority would have been well served even in this tough economic time due to that dedicated funding:

1) The whole point was it provided an orderly transition out of Queensgate--as opposed to drawing down with no replacement in place.

2) It continued the patrols that were working in OTR, and expanded them elsewhere.

3) By reducing 911 fees, it allowed jurisdictions across the county to pay for more patrols, or their own law enforcement, their choice.

4) It paid for the full costs of Butler County (or any cheaper alternative we would have found) through the transition (and this included retroactively paying for the dollars that had already been spent for Butler County from the reserve--about $10m).

So while there'd be a budget crisis, the critical public safety functions now being impacted (corrections, patrols and reforms) would have been soundly funded--and we'd have a far healthier rainy day fund to potentially utilize now that it's actually pouring rain.

Jason--I'm most interested to hear your plan. You promised the voters you had a way to do all these things (including keeping Butler County going at about $10m per year, building and operating a new jail, keeping patrols going, etc.) without any new revenues. To your credit, they listened to you. But as one speaker said on Wednesday, we haven't seen the plan yet.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious to see goofs like gloyd and dewine try to avoid respnsiblity for all their lies.

Anonymous said...

In rexponse to Annonymous re Sheriff's Winter wonderland: Yes, and you should see where the Sheriff is targeting cuts....Public Safety. He tends to use this crisis as a punching bag to make everyone pay when he does not get what he wants, and in the end, blames the outcome on everyone else. Sinful, just sinful.

Anonymous said...


Cut all you can in the Judicial budget. That crony courthouse has gotten to the point that it is the pay-check for the local republican party election poll workers.

Perhaps, if the judges where required to work a full day, then the one party controlled power house would become more diverse, fair and balanced, without the goofy decisions delivered because the party judges know that the local appellate court is in their pocket, as well as the State Supreme.

The days of hand cuffing the little lady for putting a quarter in the parking meter or the planting of dope by police offers would be history if the actions where put in check by a diverse courthouse.

Clear example would be allowing the Sheriff to use citizen property to advocate an unsupported regressive sales tax. Remember that one decision from his party hack judge?

Cut them to the bone !


Anonymous said...

Remember - the courts have ruled that police patrols are not mandatory services, only sufficient officers to respond timely to calls for assistance. Patrols are not only the biggest waste of money, they have been repeatedly proven to increase response time to actual calls for services. The only exception is when limited patrols are targeted at specific high crime areas much like the OTR patrols.

I think this budget crisis is an opportune time to prove this to county citizens. Unfortunately, crime rises during harsh economic times and so the "controls" in this social experiment will be lost and the results will become political fodder.

As to Gloyd and the general fund - of course the new tax would've benefitted and decrease the toll on other county services - that's a gimme. No secret. But, it would have preserved targeted funding for social priorities which made it a good deal for all.

We ALL told you so...

Anonymous said...

David, are you not going to publish the comment reminding everyone that you and Portune voted for the Butler County contract? If you're going to bring up the issue you shouldn't censor those of us who remember how you voted.

David Pepper said...

I enjoy reading attempts to blame the new commission for the 2006 Heimlich/DeWine Butler County deal. But they don't add up. Here are the facts:

In mid-2006, Heimlich committed Hamilton County to the long-term Butler County jail rental deal, paying for it out of the County's reserves. That contract bound the county for much of 2007. He advertised that this deal "solved the jail problem," and DeWine claimed the same in recent radio ads. But they never actually identified a way to pay for it, instead draining the County's rainy day fund. And DeWine made clear that maintaining Butler County was his top priority for the 2007 budget.

In mid-2007, the new majority instituted the comprehensive safety plan, which in part would have paid for Heimlich's Butler County commitment (so it would not drain the reserve fund any more). But once it was put on the ballot, that new revenue source was frozen pending the outcome of the election. We did choose to extend the agreement for a few months through the election (after all, it was Issue 27 opponents who said that ending it at that point was a threat simply to scare people into voting for Issue 27). But even then, we reduced the funding.

The minute Issue 27 failed later in 2007, comfirming we had no way to responsibly pay for Butler County, we ended the agreement immediately.

Overall, it was an additional example of us trying to make the best of a bad deal agreed to by Heimlich and the prior majority.

Jason Gloyd said...

I wouldn't even begin to take credit for the defeat of Issue 27, the reality is that citizens are unwilling to pay additional taxes for what we see as a basic government function and priority. as far as a plan, we did in fact suggest many of the ideas that have since been implemented. Ideas for cost savings that would not have been explored with a new revenue stream. What you seem to be saying is, "If only we had higher taxes we wouldn't be in this situation."
In reality, the national economy turned for the worse, causing a $30 million drop in County sales tax revenue, a drop that would have been exasperated if the sales tax was higher. The housing slump has also caused a dramatic drop in real estate transfer tax revenues. With that extra $30 million we could have easily paid fro Queensgate and the Sheriff's patrols.

David Pepper said...

I'm disappointed that after about 18 months, that's all you offer as your "plan."

Doesn't really help us much.

(By the way, it wasn't just about Queensgate and current level of Sheriff's patrols. You in fact promised the voters that we could keep Butler County going ($10M per year), continue the OTR Patrols, and even build and operate some type of new facility, all within current resources).

Anonymous said...

Duh. Gloyd-if it had passed, they could clearly have paid for those things, and the reserve fund would be basically replenished to help us right now. Everything else would have to be cut, but not those public safety items.

Congratulations on screwing up this County, Gloyd. You clearly have no idea what you're talking about. Worse, you clearly HAD no idea what you WERE talking about last year. Now everyone has to deal with the consequences of your ignorance.

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