Pickerington will scale back planned street maintenance in 2009 and won't fund some traditional community events, but for now, all current city jobs will be maintained.

Pickerington will scale back planned street maintenance in 2009 and won't fund some traditional community events, but for now, all current city jobs will be maintained.

Pickerington City Council last Tuesday passed a 2009 operating budget that calls for reducing city spending by more than $750,000 from the previous year.

The 2009 budget, which council passed by a unanimous vote, predicts the city will generate approximately $7.02-million, while spending $7.17-million.

The expected shortfall will be covered by $1.32-million in operating funds being carried over from this year. When added to revenues, the total amount projected to be available to the city next year will be approximately $8.35-million.

In 2008, the city estimates it will spend about $7.92-million. It projects the year's revenues at $7.09-million, and it maintained a carryover balance from 2007 of $1.31-million.

The reductions in city spending for next year will be possible due in part to a city hiring freeze, which has been in place since summer 2007. While no city jobs are expected to be cut in 2009, no vacancies will be filled.

"We have a hiring freeze on for workers (whose salaries) come out of the general fund," said Christie Hammond, council president pro-tempore and chairwoman of council's finance committee. "Any workers lost in the last year, we cannot replace.

"Thus far, however, we have not had to get rid of anybody who has a job."

City council also eliminated the $28,000 it costs to put on the city's July 4 celebration, cut an annual $10,000 contribution to the Violet Festival and reduced its membership payment to the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce from $10,000 to $5,000.

Additionally, council approved reducing 2009 spending for street paving from a proposed $400,000 to $20,000. The decrease will allow only for filling potholes and sealing surface cracks, but is an increase over 2008.

"There was no money appropriated for street paving in the 2008 budget," said Linda Fersch, Pickerington's finance director.

Many of the cuts to the 2009 budget were necessary because the city couldn't identify new revenue sources for the coming year. A proposal to increase income taxes from 1 to 2 percent for Pickerington residents who work and live in the city or who don't pay an income tax elsewhere failed by a nearly 2-to-1 vote on Nov. 4.

That tax increase would have generated approximately $2.7-million in annual revenues, city officials predicted. Now, council is considering spending an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 for a consultant to help determine why the levy failed, and if a new or different ballot initiative might be more palatable in 2009.

"We've asked (city manager Tim Hansley) to look into how much it might cost to do this type of thing, but we have not voted for it," Hammond said.

The only city workers slated to receive salary increases in 2009 are the 47 employees represented by unions. They will receive 3.5-percent increases as mandated by their negotiated labor contracts. The list includes 31 police employees, 15 workers in the water, sewer and stormwater departments, as well as one park employee.

Despite the cuts in spending, Hammond remained upbeat about Pickerington's outlook in the coming year. She noted the $13.5-million widening of Diley Road -- slated for completion next summer -- is expected to be a springboard for development.

She also said expanding the city's wastewater treatment facility, which will have the capacity to treat 3.2-million gallons of water per day, will benefit residents and potential businesses.

"That project doesn't come out of the general fund," Hammond said. "It's pretty much funded by water and sewer fees and new tap fees. That project is good because when it's completed, we'll be able to offer those services to attract businesses."

Another positive development from the budget process, Hammond said, is that it forced city officials and staff to work together to trim fat from and streamline city operations.

"Council and staff started working early on in the year with this," she said. "Everybody has been very, very diligent in looking for ways to cut and combine resources, and we're working together. That's definitely been a positive."

nellis@thisweeknews.com