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Outside Firm Has Suggestions On How Hamilton County Can Fix Its Budget Deficit

Commissioners (from left) Todd Portune, Denise Driehaus, and Stephanie Summerow Dumas.
Tana Weingartner
Commissioners (from left) Todd Portune, Denise Driehaus, and Stephanie Summerow Dumas.

An outside firm tasked with reviewing Hamilton County's finances for the past 11 years is out with its preliminary findings.

Crowe Consulting looked at the county's finances from 2008 to 2018, compared the county's funding structures with peer counties in Ohio, and made recommendations for moving forward.

Crowe Principal Alicia Antonetti-Tricker says the firm also considered the proposed 2020 budget and a possible quarter-cent sales tax being considered by the board.

"Looking at needing to close a $20 million gap in the general fund for 2020, utilizing that quarter of a percent sales tax within the 2020 budget season makes sense when coupled with efficiencies," Antonetti-Tricker says.

Crowe says possible efficiencies include eliminating some duplication of services, streamlining IT services, and increasing user fees across various county departments. Commission President Denise Driehaus echoes the report's finding that some of the county's IT systems are aging and do not "talk" with the systems in other departments.

Hamilton County gets a larger portion of its general fund dollars from property taxes when compared with its peer counties, the report finds. Franklin, Cuhahoga, Montgomery and Summit counties all rely more heavily on sales tax.

Commissioner Todd Portune points out one reason for that difference is where sales tax revenues are going.

Of the county sales tax, he says, "a half cent of that is not going to running the government and hiring sheriff's deputies and paving the roads and providing what the auditor needs or the recorder for recording deeds and all those sorts of things. Ours, instead, a half cent is going to the riverfront development, which has been good in its own right in generating revenues for us as well, but I think this is showing why this is so different and as a consequence to run the general government we've had to look to other sources of revenue."

Crowe says Tuesday's update is the first phase. Phase two will be looking for specifics among the recommendations. Antonetti-Tricker says the goal is to wrap up phase two in January.

The county requested the outside review in 2018. The county's $272,500 portion of the $570,000 price tag is being paid for out of parking revenues.

Budget hearings are scheduled for Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sharonville Convention Center, Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at Silverton Town Hall, and Oct. 10 at 1:15 p.m. at the Hamilton County Administration Building.

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Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.