Killer county budget: “People will die”


How bad is our economic mess?

Ask county officials in Hamilton County, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio).  According to Cincinnati.com, the website for the Cincinnati Enquirer:

County Administrator Patrick Thompson said Monday that the county may have to slash another $2.3 million from its already bare-bones budget proposed for 2009 because of tumbling sales tax collections and reduced funding from the state.

That means that the county will have to find more cuts on top of the more than $40 million it’s already cut from departmental requests.

The news comes as the county sheriff and other public safety officials say even the current recommendations will devastate their ability to do their jobs.

“It’s downright dangerous,” said Michael Snowden, director of Hamilton County’s Emergency Management Agency. “People will die. It’s as simple as that.”

He was referring to a recommendation to withdraw funding for the Greater Cincinnati Hazmat team, which responds to hazardous material spills.

The budget for 2009 has already been cut $31 million below the budget for 2008, to $241 million total.  Recommendations are already in place to lay off 500 workers.

What to do?

Project lower sales tax revenues.  Already done.

The county previously predicted $65 million, or a 0 percent growth, in sales tax receipts next year. Sales tax revenue typically accounts for about 25 percent of the county’s general fund budget. But because of the credit crunch and bailout fallout, all of which just came to a head in the past few months, spending has plummeted and the holiday shopping picture looks bleak. Thompson asked the board to revise that number to $63.9 million, a decrease of $1.1 million.

Maybe the state government can help out?

He also recommended reducing the amount of local money the county would receive from the state by 5 percent, or $1.2 million, to about $22.8 million because the state is in a similarly tough budget situation and likely won’t be able to fund the county adequately.

At least make sure that the public safety offices get funded.

Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis said the cuts will have a “dramatic impact” impact on his department. “In my career in law enforcement, this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said after the meeting about the budget situation. “We’ve got major problems.”

He said he may decide to cease providing security at the county buildings rather than take deputies off the road. If the county closes the Queensgate jail, 84 corrections officers and 25 support personnel would lose their jobs and 450 inmates would be released, said Leis. Because the county’s main jail has long been out of room, the Queensgate jail, meant for only low-level inmates, now also houses some of the more serious offenders, he said. Inmate charges include burglary, robbery and drug abuse.

“We do have violent offenders down there,” Leis said. “They’re not choir boys.”

The county says it can’t afford to staff or maintain the aging jail, which it leases from a corrections company.

By law, the Hamilton County, Ohio, budget needs to be locked in by January 1, 20 days prior to the inauguration of the new president. No one is talking about bail-outs for state and local governments, yet.

What would you do?

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One Response to Killer county budget: “People will die”

  1. [...] Hamilton County, the budget is not yet final, but shortfalls are dangerously [...]

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