After two hours of discussion Monday night, Hilliard City Council vice president William Uttley said he is confident the city budget for 2009 is on schedule.

After two hours of discussion Monday night, Hilliard City Council vice president William Uttley said he is confident the city budget for 2009 is on schedule.

"I was pleased with the amount of discussion and the details we were given here tonight," Uttley said after a department-by-department review of budget requests were heard by his Finance and Administration Committee.

"It's a tight budget, but we've got to look at ways to bring it together," he said. "We have to get that deficit reduced before the end of the year."

The city is facing a potential deficit of as much as $1.5-million in 2009 based on projections by finance director Michelle Kelly-Underwood.

Kelly-Underwood said she has made conservative estimates for the 2009 budget, noting that while income tax revenues remain stable, other revenue sources such as interest income have either already decreased or are likely to decline in 2009.

Department heads were ordered to be ready to justify 2009 budget requests prior to Monday night's meeting. They were apparently successful as council members discussed details of their budgets but didn't express immediate opposition to any of the line items.

"We're trying to respond to the residents," Uttley said. "I think the administration has done a good job and council is very supportive of their efforts to maintain our quality of life."

Mayor Don Schonhardt presented a draft version of the proposed 2009 budget to city council earlier this month, calling it "a work in progress."

Schonhardt said he expects the anticipated $1.5-million shortfall will be reduced before the budget is approved.

In an effort to reduce expenses in 2009, Schonhardt's administration is proposing only "priority one" projects in the city's Capital Improvements Project budget for 2009. A ceiling of $5-million has been established for those projects.

Schonhardt has said the overall focus of the 2009 budget is to continue to maintain city services at their current levels, and to control expenditures at a time when revenues are lagging.

The 2009 budget ordinance received the first of three readings during Monday night's city council meeting. A second reading and public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8. The third reading and final approval are expected Dec. 22.

Council president Brett Sciotto urged council members to take a closer look at the budget document before the Dec. 8 public hearing. Sciotto said he was concerned that a number of council's strategic initiatives, including Community Improvement Corporation funding, updates to the city Web site and production of a quarterly newsletter for residents are not currently funded in the 2009 budget.