Much has been made — and rightly so — about the $34 million Hamilton County Schools leaders have requested above the money they know they'll have coming in for fiscal 2020.
On Tuesday, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger in a presentation to the Hamilton County Commission said his budget request will fund that entire amount but will require a 34-cent property tax increase to do so.
The mayor's budget also will fund all of Sheriff Jim Hammond's $59 million in asks, including additional paramedics, EMTs (35 in a reworked system), law enforcement officers and school resource officers. Coppinger said he was able to fulfill the sheriff's budget needs by trimming requested increases from other departments.
An increase for public safety needs is no less deserved than the additional amount for schools.
Of the public safety budget, $404,000 will fund two new patrol officers, two corrections officers and two school resource officers.
If a county is growing, as Hamilton County is, the number of sworn patrol officers on the streets always will be lagging to keep up with an increasing population. Meanwhile, the lack of corrections officers seems to be an ongoing struggle. Two more of each will help.
Parents of students in county schools, in the wake of school shootings across the nation, have said, even demanded, that each of our 79 public schools should have its own resource officer. When that cry began several years ago, Hammond and others warned such an addition could not be made all at once. But this gets the county two schools closer to filling that desire.
Of the sheriff's budget, $854,000 will pay for sworn officers to have a 5% pay raise. While 5% is a lot, it helps make the department more competitive with other counties and law enforcement agencies, increases the possibility officers will stay on the job rather than seek other work and helps compensate for what is often a dangerous, difficult and thankless job.
Another $380,000 funds the FUSE (Frequent Users Systems Engagement) program, which would allow some people with addictions and mental health problems to enter treatment programs and not be housed in the Hamilton County Jail. At one point last year, sheriff's department officials estimated as many as 40 percent of the approximately 1,400 people in the jail had untreated mental illness, addiction or other problems that kept them cycling in and out of jail, emergency rooms and courts.
"Public education and public safety are our main focus," Coppinger said Monday. "We wanted to make that clear, but that means that we can't give everyone else everything they asked for."
That hardly means other county departments are getting left behind.
For instance, general county employees — if the budget is funded by a tax increase, as Coppinger suggested — will only be seeing a 2.5% raise from what had initially been proposed as a 5% jump.
That would mean such employees will have gotten raises totaling 11% over the past five years, an average of 2.2% annually.
Real average hourly and weekly earnings for all U.S. employees over the past year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, were up 1.3%.
Nevertheless, Coppinger said his staff cut $13.5 million from the budget from initial requests. Of that amount, $4.8 million came from capital outlay projects, including elevator upgrades, a new EMS training facility, additional jail improvements and renovations to the health department.
Among general fund requests, cuts were made in the amounts of asks by, among others, the likes of mental health court, highway department, CARTA and the Enterprise Center.
The budget, including the extra $34 million for schools, is an increase of 8.7% over the fiscal 2019 budget.
Thanks to a resolution earlier this year which we believe to be sound, after Coppinger officially introduces the budget during the regular Hamilton County Commission meeting today, commissioners will not be able to vote on it until June 26.
This gives commissioners the opportunity to meet with their constituents or constituents to contact them to make their feelings known.
We have said in the past we believe the school district has adequately made the case for additional funding, especially for teachers raises, art teachers and counselor/social work positions. We would have preferred it come a year from now, with the hindsight of (expected) improved test scores and a school facilities review.
However, the fact the budget includes both all of the school district requests and all of the public safety asks is an important consideration. We hope citizens and county commissioners will study it carefully.