Rocky Fork Enterprise

Mayor details cuts, urges fall tax issue

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Gahanna residents should expect the cancelation of community events like Creepside and Holiday Lights! this year and prepare for the possible closure of the pools, Herb Center and Senior Center in 2015, as a result of city budget woes.

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb and Finance Director Jennifer Teal announced the recommendations as part of a 5-year forecast and 2014 tax budget report, during a City Council committee meeting Monday, June 24.

Also at risk in 2015 are 100 jobs, Teal said. Those include six full-time positions, nine part-time jobs and about 87 seasonal positions, mostly from the pools, she added. The police department would reduce staffing by two officers to 53 officers. Four other full-time jobs would become part-time.

Stinchcomb said there was an "all hands on deck" meeting with employees Monday morning to let them know their jobs are at risk.

"We have to work in a transparent environment, so we had to notify employees they might not have a job in the future," she said.

Stinchcomb also recommended council place a 1 percent income tax rate increase back on the ballot in November. The same issue failed in May by 122 votes. The city faces an Aug. 7 deadline to place it on the fall ballot.

"For reasons I will never understand for as long as I live, only 12 percent of Gahanna's citizens came out to vote last month," she said. "I truly thought more people would be energized to cast a ballot with a tax question on it. I was wrong."

Teal's voice cracked with emotion announcing the proposed reductions and eliminations.

She said a sponsor would have to totally offset the city's cost of supporting community events like Creepside, the Service Expo and Holiday Lights! parade. The city already canceled this year's fireworks and Freedom Festival to save money.

Teal said 2015 is slated for substantial eliminations in order to create a city that uses no reserves for operating expenses.

The city has tapped into its reserves in recent years in order to balance its budget, and Teal said that practice isn't a sustainable approach for the future.

She said there's a $12.8 million gap between the projected general fund revenue and identified needs for 2014. That gap is $8 million in 2015, $9.9 million in 2016 and $9.7 million in 2017.

"It truly saddens me to tell council and our citizens that this 2014 budget does not move Gahanna forward, toward fulfilling its mission or its vision," Stinchcomb said. "We have, over the last year and in great detail, identified the city's needs over the next five years.

"Our revenue projections do not meet, nor come close to meeting Gahanna's true needs -- the service levels and offerings that would make Gahanna the sustainable and exceptional city that I believe the large majority of our citizens have come to expect."

The 2014 budget starts with current service levels and, Stinchcomb said, today's service levels reflect a reduction since 2008 with less parks maintenance, trail construction, street maintenance, snow plowing and police officers, to name a few.

The budget makes further reductions based on core service levels.

Stinchcomb defined core services as those that are fundamental to carry out the responsibilities of a local government including those mandated by the state or federal government or city charter.

"Given the gap we are projecting for 2014, we have started to make tactical reductions for the remainder of 2013," she added.

Those reductions include entryway signs and features, construction drawings for a Headley soccer field rebuild, the elimination of city funding for community events, the elimination or reduction of recreation programming that isn't offset by program revenues and leaving two part-time positions unfilled in information technology and GIS.

City Council members were left to digest the recommendations along with financial documents that will be discussed during a special meeting yet to be scheduled.

Council needs to vote on the proposed 2014 budget by July 15.

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