Friday, December 12, 2008

Budget Myth and Budget Fact #6: Balancing Budget "On the Backs of the Townships"

Budget Myth: At several public hearings and private meetings, some are suggesting that the budget is being balanced "on the backs of the Townships." (Some attribute this to the fact that the three commissioners used to be on Cincinnati City Council).

Budget Fact: This budget represents shared sacrifice by all. No one entity is being singled out. Unfortunately, if anything, the budget is actually being shouldered by the hardworking workforce of the County employees more than anyone else. And even though we are former Councilmembers, we have asked more of the City in recent years (budgetwise) than any other jurisdiction.

Explanation: Although we have not yet finalized the budget, the suggestion that this budget is being balanced "on the backs of the Townships" is misplaced. First, the basics of the budget show that most of the $40M in cuts is coming internally--from the employees of the County at all levels. And to the extent those cuts impact services, those services have a Countywide impact.

One aspect of the Administrator's proposed budget indeed involves the townships, in that he would ask the three largest Townships to pay for the patrols that they directly receive, and that they have traditionally received without having to reimburse the county. (They already pay for other patrol services provided by the Sheriff). Since the Administrator made that proposal, many questions have been raised about how to best pay for this arrangement, but this is an area that should and will ultimately be left up to the Sheriff to decide: how to best and most effectively patrol the County within his statutory authority, and within a limited budget. But even under the administrator's proposal, the budgetary impact of this is about 15% of the total cuts being discussed.

But before Township residents and leaders think that even this part of the administrator's proposal is somehow singling them out, we have actually spent the past two years having the very same conversation about other services we have traditionally provided (without reimbursement) . . . to the City of Cincinnati (yes, our former jurisdiction).

- in early 2008, for example, we began billing the City of Cincinnati for the cost of jail bed days used for citizens who violated City ordinances. For some reason, this had not been done since 2001 (even though it was required by contract). The City now pays the County $10,000s per month for this cost.

- later in 2008, I also learned that Ohio law requires that we be reimbursed for any public defender services we provide to citizens whose crimes involve the violation of the City's ordinances. Counter to the law, the public defender had not been asking for such reimbursements. Well, now we do (more accurately, as soon as we did, the City chose to do these services themselves going forward). Either way, we just relieved potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyer time from our public defender caseload.

So the concept of allocating cost to those who benefit from a service is not a new one at all, and was first applied to the City. While they at first weren't happy, they ultimately saw that our requests had merit.

Also, as we finalize this budget, we are also trying to help our Townships by:

- lobbying hard to make sure the State maintains its 911 wireless fee, which directly benefits all jurisdictions (including Townships), by reducing the local cost of running our regional communication center. This would allow each jurisdiction to put more money into local policing efforts.

- supporting legislation, requested by Anderson Township, that would allow Anderson, Green and Delhi Townships to use funds in their Tax Increment Finance Districts for more than just capital expenditures, including paying for Sheriff's patrols if they so choose.

Overall, in a tough time, we're trying to be fair to all taxpayers, residents and government partners. We are no doubt asking a little more from our partners in government, but usually because the law and fairness (or both), require it.

Even then, the sad truth is that no one is shouldering this budget and difficult economy nearly as much as our own County workforce.


Anonymous said...

with recent news reports - it seems certain townships have been balancing THEIR budgets on the backs of taxpayers from other townships for generations. At least the GOP strongholds.

The Dean of Cincinnati said...

Anon, not only do I agree, I think that is the biggest point everyone has missed in this whole story!

Read this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Dean - good story - someone needs to investigate this further since the Enquirer protects GOP strongholds. Heck, no wonder some communities are prospering while others are tithing to the extremes of Leis (and a complacent BOCC???)

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