Ohio mayors say they will have to lay off firefighters, police without federal help

The mayor of one city said he anticipated public safety cuts of up to 20% due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic


Anna Staver
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mayors across Ohio say they may be forced to layoff police officers, firefighters and other essential service providers if they're excluded from the next round of federal coronavirus relief funding.

"We're talking about what we will have to do if the federal government does not come through," Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said on a call with reporters Thursday. "Congress can do something tonight, tomorrow to make this a completely different conversation."

In this image from video, the final vote of 96-0 shows passage of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package in response to coronavirus pandemic, passed by the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Several Ohio mayors, whose cities were not included in the $150 billion in funding allocated to municipalities through the CARES Act, say they will have to make public safety cuts if they are not included in the next relief package. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, the final vote of 96-0 shows passage of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package in response to coronavirus pandemic, passed by the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Several Ohio mayors, whose cities were not included in the $150 billion in funding allocated to municipalities through the CARES Act, say they will have to make public safety cuts if they are not included in the next relief package. (Senate Television via AP)

The federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, CARES, included $150 billion for 36 municipalities with more than 500,000 residents. Columbus was the only Ohio city to qualify. But nine out of 10 cities surveyed jointly by the United States Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities reported a looming budget shortfall.

"It is suicide for all of us to have to deal with $100 million cut out of a $400 million budget," Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said. "It will set cities back for a generation."

Ohio cities are particularly vulnerable to the financial impacts caused by the statewide stay-at-home order because they rely heavily on income taxes. Four of the five most income-tax dependent large cities in the country are in Ohio and include Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo.

"It's a unique situation in the way Ohio funds our cities," Whaley said. "We will feel this pressure faster than other cities across the country."

Former Republican Gov. John Kasich eliminated other revenue sources during his tenure like the estate tax and cutting the "local government fund" by half.

"I don't think we are going to get much help from this legislature who basically did that to the local government fund," Whaley said when asked about the possibility of getting help from the state.

Her city of Dayton has already placed 469 employees on furlough, and Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz announced Thursday morning that 326 city employees were placed on temporary emergency leave. Cincinnati is projecting an $18 million budget gap and has furloughed nearly 1,700 municipal employees.

"Lancaster doesn't have a rainy day fund," Mayor David Scheffler said.

He's looking at cuts of up to 20% for his safety forces, and he worried that could lead to longer response times for citizens in need of help.

Columbus has an $84 million rainy day fund that Mayor Andrew Ginther said he hopes "will help us navigate this," but he's "really concerned about what our second and third quarters look like."

The mayors all agreed that Ohio's federal lawmakers need to advocate strongly for aid to smaller cities to be included in the next round.

"What I was told directly by the office of (Ohio) Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman ... was the reason cities were left out of the last effort of the CARES Act, except Columbus, was directly because (New York Sen.) Chuck Schumer was trying to bend the curve towards New York City," Cranley said.

"I get that Chuck Schumer is fighting for his constituents, but we need ours to fight for us."

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©2020 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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