First Posted: 11/10/2008 2:29:43 PM | Last Updated: 11/10/2008 2:29:43 PM
By R. Scott Teets
The country’s economic meltdown is forcing deep, painful cuts for Hamilton County government workers and residents.
A 2009 budget proposal before County Commissioners eliminates 532 full-time county positions, or 18 percent of the work force paid from the general fund.
Overall, the proposal represents an 11 percent spending reduction, which will be felt across all county departments. The county administrator’s recommended budget totals $1.2 billion, with $241 million in the general fund. The proposal represents a decrease of $31 million.
“This is not a feel-good budget,” said County Administrator Patrick Thompson, who presented his plan to Commissioners on Monday. “This budget proposal represents difficult but manageable reductions in all departments.”
For taxpayers, there is bright spot in Thompson’s proposal: No increase in sales and property taxes. Commissioners feel strongly that tax increases will harm the county’s ability to grow the local economy.
“There are no easy decisions in this budget,” Thompson said. “Every department will experience a significant budget decrease. Our sales-tax revenue, real estate-related revenue and interest income are all down sharply, putting us in a very tenuous situation.”
Commission President Todd Portune called the situation facing the county “the perfect storm.”
Of the positions to be eliminated, the Sheriff’s Office would be hardest hit with a reduction of 198. The proposal eliminates 159 positions in Juvenile Court and 67 positions in the Clerk of Courts office.
Sixty percent of the positions proposed to be cut are presently filled, Thompson said.
In addition to the job losses, the proposed budget also discontinues the practice of providing non-contractual Sheriff Patrols within Colerain, Anderson and Green townships.
State law requires the county to balance its budget. Cutbacks in previous years leave little left to trim now without significant pain.
“The low-hanging fruit has already been grabbed,” said Commission Vice President David Pepper.
Portune knows the 2009 budget – however it finally shakes out – will shock many. But, he said, the process will force the county to be “right-sized” for the future.
“Out of this we are going to have a balanced budget, and we will be on firm financial footing for the next 10 years and beyond,” Portune said.
“This was coming anyway,” Pepper agreed. “For years there was a structural problem. The economy is forcing our hand this year, but this was always coming. It’s something that’s needed.”
Thompson said this proposed budget marks the first time budgeting has been considered on a multi-year basis.
The county will hold a series of public hearings on the budget, beginning maybe later this month. The budget must be adopted by Dec. 31, but Portune hopes to have it finalized by Christmas.
The public can view the budget recommendations online on the Commission’s Web site
“Today is the first step in the process of adopting the budget,” Portune said. “This is not the final budget.”
As bleak as the proposed budget, Thompson and County Commissioners caution it could get worse if the economy continues its downward spiral.