By Leila Atassi [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
CLEVELAND, Ohio – City of Cleveland Health Department officials said they would hire three more investigators to deal with the city’s backlog of lead poisoning cases — if a proposed municipal income tax increase comes to pass.
City officials on Wednesday continued laying out their “wish lists” for members of City Council and making the case for just how far the extra $83.5 million in annual tax revenue could go.
Chief of Public Affairs Natoya Walker Minor said that having more lead investigators, support staffers and a data entry specialist not only would help the department keep up with the 400 new lead poisoning cases it receives each year – but it also gives the city a chance to address some of the 1,200 cases involving children with lower lead levels before they suffer cognitive impairment.
Walker Minor added that the team also would benefit from increased funding for building and housing inspectors, who would, in turn, beef up inspections, flag chipped paint as a likely source of lead and refer the cases to the health department for further investigation.
“Overall this is about eliminating silos and working with our partners,” Walker Minor said. “But more than anything, this is about providing services we haven’t been able to provide in the past.”
Mayor Frank Jackson announced in February that he would seek a tax increase from 2 to 2.5 percent to plug a multi-million dollar shortfall in the city’s budget next year, improve city services and pay for reforms to the city’s police department. Council immediately introduced legislation to put the tax increase on the ballot, though it’s unclear if voters would decide the issue in November or next May.
Council will continue hearing from administrators Thursday at 10 a.m., when Cleveland police officials are expected to explain how they would spend the additional tax revenue.