Cranley: Budget will be balanced despite plan to add more police

More safety initiatives to come later

CINCINNATI -- A plan to put more police on Cincinnati’s streets to reduce violence won’t put much strain on the city’s budget but may require cuts in some departments, said Mayor John Cranley.

After a recent string of homicides and shootings, Cranley and Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell unveiled a plan Monday to add officers and use more overtime to increase their visibility.

The plan entails adding 60 rookie officers, hiring 20 experienced officers from nearby police departments and allocating $1.2 million for overtime.

There have been 11 homicides in Cincinnati so far this year. If the pace continues, there would be 132 by December’s end. That compares to 75 homicides for all of 2013.

Cranley is hopeful the initiatives announced Monday should help slow the rate. Regardless, more public safety changes are planned.

“There’s going to be a lot more to come,” Cranley said.

“We’re going to keep changing strategies and adding resources, as needed,” the mayor added. “It’s going to be a constant reevaluation until we fix the problem.”

The spending comes at a time when Cincinnati is facing an estimated $16 million deficit for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins July 1.

As part of his mayoral campaign last year, Cranley pledged to present City Council with a structurally balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2015.

Cincinnati’s budgets have been structurally unbalanced since 2001. The term means city government spent more in expenses than it received in revenues.

Deficits routinely were avoided during those years by using emergency reserves or relying on one-time sources of money to balance the budget.

Under the latest police plan, most of the extra overtime will be paid using $1 million in savings from the department identified by Blackwell.

Most of the amount will come from using civilians in some positions that were filled by officers, and not filling some other civilian positions that are vacant.

In all, $600,000 in overtime will be used between now and June 30. Another $600,000 will be used between July 1 and year’s end.

Other expenses in the latest plan include:

** $1.4 million for the new recruit class, which will have 60 people and start around July 1. The recruits will spend six months in the academy, then four months with training officers on patrol;

** $347,500 for a “lateral training” class for officers hired from other police departments. It will take six weeks to hire the officers and another eight to train them, meaning they should hit the streets in mid-May;

Salaries for the new officers will cost $2.4 million during the first year for the rookies, and $1.6 million for the lateral hires.

The cost will be partially offset by the loss of 35 officers expected to retire this year.

“By December of next year, we’ll barely be at where we are now with staffing (after the retirements),” Cranley said.

“The difference is we’re trading 70 cops who are at the top end of the pay scale for cops who are at the bottom end,” the mayor said.

The Cincinnati Police Department has 954 sworn officers.

The number is 180 officers under its authorized staffing level, and the last recruit class was held in 2008.

Since 2009, former Mayor Mark Mallory and ex-City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. had proposed laying off some officers nearly each year to help avoid deficits. The layoffs never occurred, however, as cuts were made in other departments.

But the strategy strained relations between city officials, the police union and many rank-and-file officers.

Critics note Cincinnati still has more police officers per capita than many cities including Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis and Louisville.

Although the mayor presents City Council with a proposed budget, it’s up to the legislative group to make changes and pass a spending plan.

Council seems to overwhelmingly favor the latest police plan, which likely will be approved Wednesday.

“The budget is an important, ongoing conversation that needs to ultimately reflect the values of the policy-makers, whose role is to channel the will of the citizens,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

“Just about every council member has said public safety is the top priority, so maintaining minimum staffing levels within our police force can and must be achieved within the context of (the) overall operating budget,” Sittenfeld added.

For context, Cincinnati’s general fund budget this year is $360.4 million.

The general fund pays for most daily operating expenses of city government including basic services like police and fire protection, park maintenance, street repair, trash collection, and operation of recreation centers and health clinics.

Most of the general fund’s revenue comes from city income tax and property taxes.

Of the general fund, $196.2 million – or 54 percent of the overall budget– is spent on personnel costs.

And of that amount, $136.9 million – or 69.8 percent of personnel costs – are spent for police and firefighters.

Also, employee benefits account for $97 million of the general fund budget, or 27 percent.

Non-personnel costs total $52.3

million, or 15 percent of the budget.

From 2013 to this year, 94 positions were eliminated at City Hall. That includes 64 in the police department, mostly from attrition.

Public safety spending should be the top priority in the city budget, Cranley said.

After police and fire, other priorities include public services like trash collection and road repair, parks and recreation, and health and human services, the mayor added.

“Anything not on that list is negotiable,” Cranley said.

That would leave items like the Law Department, the Planning Department and funding for non-city organizations like the Film Commission or Chamber of Commerce to bear the brunt of paying for increased police spending.

“I think the $1.2 million can be absorbed by all of these departments very easily, without the need for drastic cuts,” Cranley said.

Most council members generally agree.

“The budget process will unfold in greater detail in the coming months, and council will make it work in a way that is responsible and balances a variety of needs and priorities,” Sittenfeld said.

READ MORE: Stories by Kevin Osborne
FOLLOW: @kevinwcpo

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