Rocky Fork Enterprise

After tax-hike defeat

City Council begins budget talks for 2014

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Coming on the heels of a defeated income-tax proposal that would have generated $8 million annually, Gahanna City Council is delving into the 2014 budget and five-year forecast.

The public is invited to provide input on the 2014 appropriations during council meetings Dec. 2 and 16.

City finance director Jennifer Teal recently told council Gahanna faces an average $7 million gap annually between resources and needs between 2014 and 2018.

Many of the reductions that were outlined in June are included in the proposed budget. In addition, the 2014 budget request includes significant operating reductions in an effort to minimize the planned use of excess reserves.

Teal said the budget also funds less than one-fourth ($2.1 million of an identified $9.3 million) of the priority capital needs identified for 2014 in the capital-needs assessment.

The operating service-level reductions beginning in 2014 include decreased funding for police and general vehicle and equipment replacement programs and reductions and eliminations to community events, recreation programs, economic development and business retention and expansion services.

The 2014 budget request uses $1.2 million in excess general-fund reserves and $1.7 million from the capital improvement fund in addition to planned general-fund revenue.

Beginning in 2015, further operating reductions will be required in addition to those set to begin in 2014 in an effort to keep operations in line with available revenue without use of reserves, Teal said.

The administration has proposed $1.2 million in operating reductions that would help eliminate the gap between annual revenue and ongoing operating expenses.

The recommended 2015 operating reductions and net savings include elimination of economic development outreach, $92,000; planning and development administrative support, $29,000; part-time public-information administrative support, $18,000; emergency management and eliminated CodeRED notification, $33,000; parks maintenance operation, $100,000; Gahanna Senior Center closure, $98,000; Ohio Herb Education Center closure, $5,000; swimming pools closure, $267,000; authorized and funded police staffing (from 55 budgeted officers to 53), $175,000; consolidated city-wide front-desk operations, $100,000; eliminated nonunion raises and reduced other compensation for nonunion employees, $257,000; employee training and professional development, $25,000; benefit contributions and/or plan design revisions to effect health care savings, $60,000.

The proposed reductions create a significant potential for unemployment insurance liability, so a cost of $59,000 is being estimated for that purpose, with continued monitoring, Teal said.

Based on the reductions, she said, the administration has created a forecast that minimizes the need to use excess reserves to fund planned operations.

She said a gap remains between available resources and total capital needs, though.

Teal said the administration and City Council must create and implement a strategic framework and plan that would guide the process to create a capital improvement and funding plan that could include using remaining excess reserves or making further operating reductions.

The administration's budget request for 2014 in the general fund is $403,156, or 1.5 percent more than 2013 appropriations. Total 2014 general-fund revenue is estimated at $128,449, or 0.5 percent higher than 2013 estimates.

For 2014, general-fund expenses are expected to exceed revenue by $1.2 million.

Teal said the difference would be offset by excess reserves in the balance of the general fund. At the beginning of 2014, the balance of the general fund is expected to be $13 million. After the 25-percent mandatory reserve of $6.2 million is held aside,an estimated $6.8 million of excess reserves will be available in the fund balance. The use of $1.2 million still will leave the fund balance at a healthy level, Teal said.

In addition to dissecting the budget, council is scheduled to discuss amending legislation for ward boundaries during its Nov. 25 committee meeting.

Council member Brandon Wright said he is initiating the effort because the wards are unbalanced, in terms of population.

"I think this is the right move to make," council member Tom Kneeland said. "Looking at the numbers, there's a high imbalance. I understand the need for this and support it."

Wright asked that legislation be approved by emergency Nov. 18, with a waiver on second reading, but the motion failed.

Council member Karen Angelou said no discussion has occurred during committee meetings and she sees no reason for an emergency measure without discussion.

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