Cleveland City Council Monday granted the final approval to Mayor Justin Bibb’s inaugural budget that is expected to include $1.8 billion in expenditures across all city departments.
Three of the council’s 17 members voted against the plan.
The Bibb’s budget for the general fund, which does not include airports or utilities; however, it covers most of the city’s daily functions, is estimated to be $710 million in expenditures and around $648 million in revenue.
To make up for the shortfall, the city plans to spend around $62 million from the $132 million that it was able to reserve in the last fiscal year as part of its federal pandemic assistance from the American Recovery Plan.
If spending by the city in 2022 remains in line with the budget. Cleveland next year is expected to spend an additional $29 million in its general funds than the amount it spent in 2021.
A large portion of the anticipated growth is due to the cost of staffing. Bibb included funds for around 130 additional city staffers and money to fill nearly 700 vacant positions.
Budgets from 2019 to 2021 predicted staffing increases between 9% and 12 per cent per year. In the meantime, staffing levels fell from around 4,600 in 2019 to approximately 4,200 in 2021. The decline coincides with a freeze on hiring that the mayor of the time instituted to aid in helping Cleveland get through the recession caused by the rubella pandemic.
The budget for the general fund of Bibb predicts around 5,040 employees by 2022 — which is a 19% increase from last year’s budget, but by the city’s pre-pandemic hiring targets.
During the period of budget hearings held in March and February, several council members voiced concerns regarding the cost for the new posts and the use of the federal aid program to cover the cost.
The members Michael Polensek, Ward 8, and Brian Kazy, Ward 16, rejected the budget Monday over these concerns. Polesenk called on the city to “slow the train,” saying he was concerned about the amount of money the city is expenditure and the more extensive economic outlook. Kazy stated that the budget wasn’t fiscally responsible, mainly because it relied on federal assistance to pay for the deficit. Due to the possibility of increases to be sought by the city’s workforce union and were not adequately accounted for the city’s budget.
Stephanie Howse, Ward 7 Ward 7, is the 3rd “no” vote.
She also mentioned the recent shooting in her ward, referred to the increase in the violence involving guns throughout the city and claimed that the city’s budget didn’t include preventative measures to stop violence before it began.
“What we’re doing isn’t trying to stop this localized kind of trauma,” stated Howse. “When you’re dealing with limited resources available, we need to be more deliberate, strategic and purpose-driven…I do not believe this budget reflects the deliberate plan to prevent incidents similar to this from happening.”
Bibb has stated that his budget is a temporary one. Chief financial officer Ahmed Abonamah told the council that the mayor plans to use the next few months to assess staffing levels and figure out what changes are needed for the long-term and the aim of balancing the budgets in the future.
“Without this federal support, we would have had just to write positions off indiscriminately, but we have an opportunity to be much more intentional and responsible going forward,’ Abonamah previously told The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com.
Meanwhile, many significant questions remain regarding the city’s finances through 2022.
The budget doesn’t attempt to estimate how much in tax revenues the city could lose this year due to more remote employees working from their homes away from the city. (Income taxes, in the last few years, comprised between two and half of the general fund’s revenue.)
The budget does not include increases for unionized employees. A total of 30-plus collective bargaining arrangements are open to negotiation this year.
Council members have expressed additional questions about inflation and how invading Russian Ukraine may affect the prices of gasoline and other items across the city departments.
Council before the vote on Monday added around $6 million of expenses to Bibb’s spending plan. These changes include more money to Vision Zero (a traffic safety initiative), the Right to Counsel program (providing legal aid for families who face the prospect of eviction), and the Cleveland Muni Football League and staff raises.
Council also boosted funds for two programs that it has regularly funded in recent years, including a home repair program to seniors and money to help with neighbourhood needs, like park improvement, street repairs or any other type of infrastructure.