People Support City Social Services

A majority of Cincinnati residents support using taxpayer money to fund human services programming, according to a recent poll. Funded by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the telephone poll foun

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Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis thinks it's OK for his vehicles to carry political signs. Left unanswered is why he has a tank in the first place.

A majority of Cincinnati residents support using taxpayer money to fund human services programming, according to a recent poll. Funded by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the telephone poll found that 94 percent of respondents believe human services funding in the city of Cincinnati's annual budget is "very important" or "somewhat important." Of that amount, almost 71 percent of respondents declared the funding "very important." The poll also found that 86.5 percent of respondents support the city's traditional practice of setting aside a portion of its general fund revenue for human services. Of that amount, 53.4 percent "strongly favor" the practice.

The results are at odds with attempts in recent years by some Cincinnati City Council members to eliminate the funding altogether.

The University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research conducted the poll on behalf of Applied Information Resources, a local firm involved with increasing community involvement in government and public policy research. It was a random telephone survey of 564 Cincinnati residents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent. Of the respondents, 76 percent said they were registered voters. Of those offering political identification, 55.3 percent were Democrat, 22 percent were Republican and 18.5 percent were independent.

Beginning in 1981, city council decided to allocate 1.5 percent of its general fund budget for human services. In recent years, that amount totaled about $4.8 million annually, but city council began reducing the amount in 2005 due to budget constraints.

In late 2004 then-Mayor Charlie Luken proposed abolishing the city's funding altogether. Faced with flat tax revenues and rising expenses, Luken said municipal government should focus on providing "core services" such as police and fire protection, garbage pickup and filling potholes. City council opposed his effort, eventually settling on reducing the amount by roughly half, to $2.2 million.

For 2007, the amount increased slightly, to $2.7 million. Supporters of the older policy, however, note that the amount isn't tied to a set percentage and is subject to city council's whims each year. Despite the recent cuts, the poll found that 63 percent of respondents had heard "not much" or "nothing at all" about the reductions.

Probably Maybe OK
Last week Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis didn't exactly admit to using taxpayer funds to promote the jail tax, but he did say he should be able to do so. Leis gave an interview for a report by the I-Team on WCPO (Channel 9). Critics have complained about an e-mail Leis sent sheriff's personnel, urging them to support the sales tax for a new jail, scheduled for a vote Nov. 6 (see "Jail Break," issue of Sept. 12). During the Harvest Home Parade in Cheviot, sheriff's personnel marched alongside Leis' arsenal — a tank, a helicopter and a patrol boat — as they often do at other parades. This time, however, the equipment bore signs saying, "Support the new jail."

Ohio election laws prohibit using public money for campaigning for or against a candidate or issue. It also prohibits using public money to compensate employees for time spent campaigning. At least two people have written County Prosecutor Joe Deters, asking that he investigate.

Leis has denied doing anything wrong. But in WCPO's report, broadcast Sept. 13, he said, "If I can't put a sign on a sheriff's vehicle that says, 'Support the new jail,' trying to get this tax levy passed, there's something wrong there."

The same report featured an embarrassing show of support for Leis by County Commissioner Todd Portune, who said, "Yes, he's probably maybe overly aggressive about getting it done. I don't really fault him for that." Never mind all those messy adverbs running together. Just how far will Portune go to maintain his uneasy alliance with Leis?

While cleaning out her wardrobe, Connie Berter of Hamilton, a corrections officer, decided to donate a full-length rabbit-fur coat to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Berter had read that the group cuts up donated furs for bedding for orphaned wildlife, sends them to refugees overseas and uses them in displays to dissuade potential fur buyers.

"After reading the book Making Kind Choices by (PETA President) Ingrid Newkirk, I decided to change my lifestyle to an animal-friendly one," Berter says. "When I came across the fur coat, I decided to donate it to PETA, hoping that it could be used for educating people (about) the cruelty of fur. I cannot believe that at one time I contributed to a company that killed animals for their fur. The thought makes me sick, and I did not want to look at that coat any longer."

Every year PETA gives away hundreds of donated fur coats to needy people across North America. The organization has also sent coats to refugees in Afghanistan, civilians in war-torn Iraq and earthquake survivors in Iran. PETA also uses donated furs in library displays, anti-fur fashion shows, street theater and other educational events designed to convince consumers that animals should never be fashion victims.

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