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Friday, September 21, 2007

Ohio's Hamilton County: Workers May Vanish To Plug $31 Mil Budget Gap

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Ohio's third-largest county is considering trimming some of its 6,000 employees to close a $30.7 million budget shortfall next year. The hole is caused, in part, because economic growth in the Cincinnati area has not soared as boosters promised when they campaigned to have Hamilton County cover the huge expense of building new stadiums for the Bengals and Reds on the Ohio River. The stadiums aren't the only blame -- but they have played a major role in stressing the budget, as has crime, population loss to the suburbs and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs in a globalized economy.

Now the county may have to buy-out workers, or more likely offer early retirement. The Daily Bellwether obtained this memo that was circulated to employees at the courthouse Friday:

"The Board of County Commissioners is considering implementing an Early Retirement Incentive Plan (ERIP) County Administration and County Personnel have begun preliminary work to determine if such a plan would be viable for the County. The impetus to adopting such a plan is financial.

"The Board would like to know who among the Courts' employees would be interested in participating in an ERIP. According to the Ohio Revised Code, the maximum number of years of service credit that can be purchases under an ERIP is five (5) years. If you are interested in possibly participating in an ERIP, please let me know in writing by September 26, 2007. Your letter of interest in no way obligates you to participate in an ERIP should such a plan be implemented."

A budget estimate from August (pdf) shows the shortfall. County workers also have been notified they can expect a major increase in their health insurance costs in 2008. Hamilton County finds itself stuck. Costs have risen and Ohio's economy hasn't grown fast enough to pick up the slack. Or there are too many costs built into the system and it has to be pared.

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