We have a message for Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly: Stop raiding the coffers of our local communities.
Last week, we took that message to Columbus. Other local elected officials from across the state — Democrats and Republicans — joined us, along with leaders of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police and Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters.
Together, we spoke out against a glaring omission in the governor’s midterm budget update: its failure to restore critically important dollars to the state’s Local Government Fund. The $1.5 billion surplus that Mr. Kasich likes to boast about has come at the expense of local communities and the basic services they provide.
The effects of cuts in state aid to communities such as Toledo and Cincinnati are severe. The governor and legislature have merely shifted the burden and passed the buck to local officials whom citizens lean on most directly for the delivery of essential services.
This is not a partisan issue. The harmful actions of state government are hurting red and blue counties, big cities and rural areas alike. The state has taken more than $1 billion from cities, villages, and townships across Ohio.
The Local Government Fund might more accurately be called the “Public Safety Fund.” Its dollars often go toward putting police on the streets in our communities, helping staff our fire departments, and keeping our infrastructure operating. Raiding local communities is a failed policy with destructive consequences.
Our two cities are representative of many other communities throughout Ohio. The Weather Channel gave Toledo the dubious distinction of having had the worse winter of any major American city. We had more than seven feet of snow, three Level 3 weather emergencies, subzero temperatures, and related overtime costs of nearly $4 million.
Toledo’s roads are in rough shape. Since the state started cutting aid to local government, we have used money from our capital improvement account to fill gaps in our general fund. Although our citizens approved this necessary shift, they are weary of delayed infrastructure improvements. They want action.
Despite the brutal winter, Toledo has continued to do its part to keep commerce flowing in our state. Our reward? Rent increases for local governments from the state Department of Administrative Services that could exceed $500,000.
State government’s actions have been similarly frustrating for Cincinnati, which faces a $22 million budget deficit. The state has taken $32 million from Cincinnati over the past several years.
In response, Cincinnati’s government has tightened its belt. The city work force is down 1,000 employees from a decade ago. The city went six years without adding a police recruit class, watching the department shrink through attrition. The fire department has endured much the same fate.
When Governor Kasich visited Cincinnati recently, he said: “I’ve not heard of any places here where, my goodness, we couldn’t put a fire out. If I saw that, I’d be concerned.” The governor evidently doesn’t know that in recent years, Cincinnati’s fire department has endured “brownouts” — a term for times when there aren’t enough personnel to staff the fire engines.
Cincinnatians, Toledoans, and citizens everywhere else in Ohio want and deserve to be safe. Yet the state maintains a policy that makes us less so. Our state cannot thrive if its cities must continue to endure understaffed public safety departments and crumbling infrastructure.
We urge Governor Kasich and state lawmakers to put Ohio citizens ahead of sound bites, and to restore local government funding. We ask them once again to do what’s right — to be a partner of, not an obstacle to, local communities.
Lindsay Webb represents District 6 on Toledo City Council. P. G. Sittenfeld is a member of Cincinnati City Council.