Friday, February 13, 2009

Public Safety Budget, Round II

Still trying to solve this public safety funding issue without running out of our reserve dollars.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid it isn't clear to everyone just how tough the economic times are, and how irresponsible it would be to drain any further the very little reserves we have left when we still don't know what's in front of us economically for 2009.

I have laid out clear and viable options the Sheriff has to solve the public safety concerns within his own resources, and they are far less risky to the County's financial health. If he is sufficiently concerned about the very consequences he describes, it would seem to be an easy choice. Come to think of it, these ideas actually make good sense anyway.

The Enquirer blog posted a number of public communications that summarize the situation. It's not a pretty exchange, but sometimes a little directness and creative tension is the way you solve problems. And in the end, there simply is no way we can compromise the fiscal health and viability of this County--and the message just doesn't seem to be getting through unless said as directly as possible.

Two Great Initiatives

Today I was thrilled to take part in two great initiatives.

First, the County, City of Cincinnati and a lot of other local governmment, nonprofit and private partners have been working to put together an application to become a Bicycle Friendly Community.* Which means if we are to succeed, we actually have to have an action plan to become a bicycle friendly community. And we want to do it as a region.

A survey I recently conducted was aimed to gather input on some of the steps we should take. And we received more than 1,500 responses, showing just how much pent-up energy there is behind this work.

Well, today, leaders from the League of American Cyclists (the organization that runs the bicycle friendly rating system) came to town, and we hosted a workshop to help think through the process, and what the best steps will be to improve things. Officials from numerous local governments, private entities, and biking advocates all were around the table brainstorming. It was a great session, and a key step in the planning process we are leading. (Comment below if you want to join the effort).

* Notice when you look at the map of bicycle friendly communities, there isn't one from Ohio.

Second, I also attended the announcement of the Agenda 360 blueprint to move our region forward. Today's announcement was the result of a terrific coming together of thousands of volunteers over two years, to chart out a regional roadmap of priorities and opportunities.

I want to thank all involved for making this great contribution to our community's future--and I will certainly be reviewing their proposals to see which ones the County can play a partnership role in.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CVB and Tourism: Capping a Successful 2008

Today, the Mayor and I joined hundreds of others at the Convention and Visitors Bureau annual luncheon.

I've written on this blog again and again about the dramatic growth and success we're seeing in our tourism market, thanks to some wise investments and marketing, and today was the day where we all told this story publicly.

It was a great event, and congratulations to all involved in the success of the past year.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Protecting Public Safety, but Re$pon$ibly

Amid today's stormy weather, we had our own turbulence at our County Commission meeting today as we debated how to get through the budget crisis, particularly when it comes to our public safety budget.

The Sheriff, who I've worked with closely on a number of issues, asked us once again to tap into our reserves to help out in this tough time. Respectfully, we just couldn't do it, for several reasons:
  • we would be violating our own policy of not using reserves for regular operations, which we passed several years back after prior county commissions had done just that and gotten us into the mess we're in now
  • we would violating the commitments we have publicly made to rating agencies that we would adhere to that reserve policy
  • we would be jeopardizing the financial stability of the County--given that our reserve is already too low (just around 5%), and that due to the bad economy, we are already seeing large hits to our first several months of revenue (sales tax, transfer tax, interest earnings, conveyance fees -- all down). Taking money from the reserves in such an uncertain time would simply be irresponsible.

While most media outlets described our reaction as a simple denial of his request, I actually proposed ways that the Sheriff could immediately find dollars to help maintain some of the priorities of corrections and patrols, and minimize the layoffs that we're all concerned about:

  • Apply 20-25% salary cuts on his senior employees that also receive pensions: that will save up to $200,000
  • Identify the exact amount of asset forfeiture dollars available in both the federal (potentially more than $1M) and state (potentially $800,000) funds and apply whatever amount we can to support priority patrol and corrections functions: this will generate at least hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • conduct an updated inventory, and sell all remaining unnecessary take home cars: tens or hundreds of thousands
  • take the $216K that was going to be used to hire five new non-patrol employees (that was recently posted), and apply those funds to maintain other patrol and corrections priorities: $216,000

TOTAL AMOUNT: hundreds of thousands, and potentially more than $1 million.

Let's hope these ideas, and any others, can lead to progress in the coming week or so.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sparking Economic Development in Seven Communities

Last night, we announced exciting economic development grants for seven communities in our County. This is the type of work that helps restore business and commercial districts that sit at the heart of our communities, while supporting small businesses and retaining and creating jobs.

Congratulations to these communities, and we look forward to working with you to spur growth in each of these business districts.

Channel 9 did a nice story on why this makes such a difference.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Going on Tour: First Stop, Blue Ash

From Washington, to Columbus, even to local government, it's far too easy for elected leaders--particularly at busy times--to get insulated and isolated from the communities and citizens they represent. And out-of-touch elected leadership ultimately means poor leadership.

That's why last month, I announced a new initiative to structure our meetings in a way that gets County Commissioners and Administration out in the community regularly, so we 're far more in tune with that's happening in our neighborhoods.

Once a month, under our Community Tour approach, we will replace a Monday morning staff meeting with an evening session out in one of our many great communities. And then we ask the hosting community to set the basic agenda of the meeting. The purpose is to hear directly from community leaders about what is happening in their neck of the woods--the overall vision for their community, the challenges, the opportunities, and how the County can help--and also to hear directly from citizens (since an evening meeting is so much more convenient for many people).

Well, tonight we had our first such meeting in Blue Ash, and it worked out just as we had hoped. We were welcomed by the Mayor and Councilmembers, received an overview of Blue Ash issues and opportunities by the City Manager, and heard directly from citizens from nearby. Even though not all of them spoke, far more people attended than we usually see at our regular meetings downtown.

And during our regular agenda, we approved Business District Revitalization grants that will help, among a number of communities, Blue Ash revitalize a key commercial district.

It was a great start to an important new approach. Thanks to Blue Ash and its leaders for getting us off on the right foot.

Next stop, Forest Park!

Homeless in Our Jail

The story speaks for itself, but when we have limited jailspace and limited dollars, using that precious jailspace to cycle homeless people through, again and again, for low level crimes just doesn't make any sense. (Needless to say, homeless people who commit more serious crimes, including theft, assault, etc., should be jailed accordingly.)

The Criminal Justice Commission is already working to solve this--particularly by doing a better job connecting those homeless people at the "front door" of our Justice Center into the homeless services that are out there. But the responsibility lays with both the criminal justice system, as well as the homeless services, to come up with a better way.

Doing so will improve safety, save taxpayer dollars, and improve lives.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Economic Recovery Strategy

An interview appeared on Channel 12 Newsmakers this morning where I discussed the County's Economic Recovery Strategy.

Several people have asked to read the plan in more detail. To read an overview and then link to the details, click here.
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