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Ohio Mayors Call For Direct Federal Aid As Coronavirus Devastates Local Budgets

Mayor Andrew Ginther tours the coronavirus "surge" site at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Greater Columbus Convention Center
Mayor Andrew Ginther tours the coronavirus "surge" site at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Mayors around Ohio are calling on federal authorities to deliver more funding as coronavirus-caused job losses eat into local revenue.

Dayton, like many other Ohio cities, relies on income taxes to fund its operations. Without federal assistance, mayor Nan Whaley says they’re looking at potentially cutting 18% out of this year’s budget, impacting services like police and fire, and undermining the local economy.

“When you cut the public safety forces, that’s going to be a drag on the recovery as well,” Whaley says. “So in addition to not getting these dire services—police, fire, trash, etc.—with these 18% cuts, you know, it also will drag on the recovery and make it slow as well.”

So far, Dayton has furloughed nearly 500 city employees, but police and fire haven't been impacted.

Cities in Ohio are particularly susceptible to a shock like the current statewide shutdown, because state lawmakers have pared back funding sources that could act as a backstop. Whaley cites, in particular, cuts to the local government fund during the John Kasich administration.

Earlier this week, Ohio Auditor Keith Faber told local governmentsto examine their finances and prepare for cuts of up to 20%.

Despite a gloomy outlook around the bend, Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther says police and firefighters should be OK.

“There are no layoffs, police officers or firefighters, that are being contemplated at this point,” he says. “We are very fortunate in this city we have never laid off a police officer or a firefighter. That is not the case for many, many mayors around the state and the country.”

A bit outside Columbus, Lancaster mayor David Scheffler notes public safety salaries and benefits make up more than two-thirds of the budget. The city doesn’t have a rainy day fund, and without additional support, he says cuts are likely unavoidable.

“The safety forces no doubt are going to feel a disproportionate impact of that,” Scheffler explains. “We’re looking at possible laying off 20% of our safety forces, police and fire.”

Cincinnati mayor John Cranley says cities need help, and it’s help that only the federal government can provide.

“Since it’s only the federal government that can print money, and both the state and local governments have to balance budgets,” Cranley says. “This is in the national interest, in the state interest and it’s in all of our interest.”  

A recent survey by the National League of Cities and the United States Conference of Mayors – of which Whaley is the second vice president – found that nearly nine in 10 cities nationwide expect to see budget shortfalls this year as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.