Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Spendaholics need a dose of cutting back


Click here to e-mail Peter Bronson
Have you heard the sad story about the lottery winner who piddled away a $55 million jackpot in a year and wound up broke, bankrupt and begging for spare change? That's right, I'm talking about City Hall.

Cincinnati got a super lotto jackpot of $55 million from Anthem Insurance stock in 2003. Now it's all gone and the city is $11 million in the hole.

No, wait, make that a $71 million sinkhole by 2008 unless they cut $15 million a year. Annual revenues are increasing 2.6 percent, the 2004 budget forecast says, but spending is rising 3.9 percent.

"It's not a revenue problem, it's a spending problem," Councilman Pat DeWine recently said. "We're spending more per person than any other major city in Ohio over 200,000 population."

I couldn't believe it. Cincinnati outspends XXL notches in the Rust Belt like Cleveland and Akron? Holy Toledo.

Sure enough, DeWine's staff research shows Cincinnati spends $1,038 per person. Next is Cleveland, at $1,006. The rest drop below $700.

DeWine says the city could have avoided a crisis if council had not caved to unions to kill managed competition.

He has a point. Forcing city crews to bid against private contractors has already increased street sweeping miles by 65 percent while saving money, a city report shows.

Here's another idea: Instead of spending the $55 million Anthem windfall like contestants on Let's Make A Debt, they should have stashed some in a mattress. Everyone else saw economic whitewater ahead. City Hall ignored the warnings and went over the falls.

Here are a few budget items that should be hooked up to an industrial strength waste detector.

• Curbside recycling costs $1.7 million but is used by only 40,000 of 105,000 eligible households. The American Enterprise Institute points out that curbside recycling requires more trucks, "costs between 35 and 55 percent more than simply disposing of the item," and "typically wastes resources" - just to make Sierra Clubbers feel better. Trash it.

• The city is spending $750,000 to study an exit from Interstate 71 at Martin Luther King. They should study exiting from overpriced studies - that one's free.

• They spend $3.1 million on Cincinnati Public Schools, for nurses, support officers and drug education - on top of a $5 million annual donation to CPS. The last time I checked, City Council was not in charge of K-12 education.

• Health care went up $3.5 million this year, and another 20 percent increase is expected next year. Last year, city workers paid only 10 percent of their health care costs. The national average is 15-25 percent. If all city workers paid 25 percent like the new AFSCME contract, the city could save millions.

• The city will spend $3.5 million this year on the arts, but can't afford to enough cops or firemen. So next time a fire alarm goes off, call a mime. Mugged? Call a performance artist.

• The city has seven golf courses and two airports, including one in Blue Ash. Sounds like time for a garage sale.

I'm no budget wizard, but even without selling a single runway or pro shop, these cuts would plug that $11 million hole. Seems like the city manager, with three assistants and 20 employees, could get together with the mayor and council's 30 staffers and find more cuts.

Or they can start buying lottery tickets.

E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.




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