Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Budget boosts neighborhoods, cuts recycling

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Neighborhood development projects in Bond Hill, College Hill, Corryville, Kennedy Heights, Madisonville and Westwood would split $23.7 million in city funding under a 2004 budget proposal by City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

The budget's biggest casualty: the city's $2.1 million curbside recycling program.

"We are keeping the promises we made in our budget of a year ago, which are safe, clean and invested communities," said Mayor Charlie Luken, who will send the budget to City Council today.

Luken said the budget maintains City Council's commitment to hire 75 more police officers by funding the final 15 positions. That brings the police department's complement up to 1,060.

The neighborhood development projects are:

• Bond Hill: The city would spend up to $10 million to buy the former Huntington Meadows apartment complex and demolish its 58 buildings, making way for a development of townhomes and single-family houses.

• College Hill: Redevelopment of the vacant properties at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and West North Bend Road, plus business expansion and improvement grants of up to $5,000 for as many as 35 businesses. Total: $2.8 million.

• Corryville: The University Village project along Martin Luther King Drive would provide commercial and office space, parking, and up to 300 housing units to the Uptown area. The city's contribution: $3.8 million.

• Kennedy Heights: Streetscape improvements, the redevelopment of the vacant Furniture Fair building, and a new retail and office building on Montgomery Road would help redevelop the business district. The city would also fix up nearby apartment buildings through the Rental Rehabilitation Program, for a total of $1.8 million.

• Madisonville: Construction of a housing and retail development at the corner of Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue, $2.8 million.

• Westwood: Additional parking for the Harrison Avenue business district and renovation of nearby apartment buildings, $2.5 million.

The city works on a $2 billion biennial budget, which City Council passed unanimously a year ago. That means the 2004 budget is an "update," making minor adjustments and providing more specifics.

In 2004, the city plans to spend $15 million more than it will take in, spending down the city's cash reserves to just $3.3 million.

The biggest battle is likely to be over curbside recycling, a service that was scheduled for cuts if the city's revenue picture didn't improve. A $1.9 million property tax cut last month all but sealed the program's fate.

Luken characterized the recycling cuts as a "suspension," and promised the program will return when the economy picks up.

Finance Committee Chairman John Cranley said the budget is still out of whack, supporting a top-heavy city administration. He said restoring the recycling program is his top priority.

"Given the choice of providing a service to citizens or keeping people on the public payroll, we need to take a much more aggressive look at reforming the bureaucracy," he said.

City Council will look at several other options to keep the program alive: Changing the materials the city will recycle could save some money, and switching to biweekly or monthly collection could save 20 to 40 percent.

Like most businesses, health care costs are eating up a bigger share of the budget. For the city, those costs increased 25 percent in 2003 and are expected to climb another 12 percent next year.

The mayor said city employees would be asked to contribute a bigger share of their pension and health care costs in the coming years - about 50 percent more to the pension fund and twice their current health care premiums.

The Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the budget 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Madisonville Community Center, 5320 Stewart Road.


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