Hamilton: Spooky Nook project unrelated to city’s tight general fund

A proposed gigantic sports complex and convention center is not a reason Hamilton may lay off employees near the end of the year or in 2019, City Manager Joshua Smith said.

The Spooky Nook at Champion Mill project, which Hamilton is planning to help finance with $26 million, will receive no future money from Hamilton’s general fund, the fund that provides money for many city services, including police and firefighters, officials told the Journal-News.

“There is no correlation there,” Smith said, adding the proposed $144 million Spooky Nook project has a “zero impact” on the need for layoffs to nurses or other city employees.

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Increasing public safety costs are the factor causing the need to tighten the general fund budget, Smith and city Finance Director Dave Jones said. Police received 3 percent increases for the next three years, and negotiations are starting this fall with firefighters. Those inflationary pressures are causing the tight budget, Smith said.

Hamilton City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to approve development agreements for the project. A Spooky Nook groundbreaking is scheduled for the following day.

Hamilton officials have lamented state budget cuts to local governments, which they say have cost them millions of dollars. In response, the city has worked to become more efficient and merge services with other governments, Smith said.

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Hamilton has cut costs by using the county’s emergency 911 dispatching services, given the county its public parking garage, and entered into a 45-year water agreement with Butler County, he said.

Public nursing, which may experience three layoffs in late December, might be operated less expensively using operations of Butler County, Middletown or private companies, officials have said.

“Our hand has been forced by the state of Ohio,” Smith said. “We have to continue to regionalize services to spread costs around (and spend fewer city dollars).”

But: “If there’s a way that we can offer those same services and keep our public nurses here, we’ll do it,” Smith said.

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Hamilton spent some money on environmental studies and other items in connection with Spooky Nook, but when the city took out a loan in August, that money was repaid, Smith said.

The city will pay $5.92 million, using utility funds, to pay for utility improvements needed to connect to and service the Spooky Nook complex. City officials continue to explore ways to explore bonds they expect to sell to finance the project. Those options could include sale of city assets and other possibilities, Smith said.

On other financing, Hamilton also would issue debt, but it would be repaid using revenue proceeds from Spooky Nook.

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