The city of Reynoldsburg faces flat and falling revenue in 2014, an issue that will require creative thinking to balance the budget and fund essential services, according to City Council members.
Residents rejected the latest bid to raise the city's income tax on the Nov. 5 ballot. It was the fourth time voters have rejected city tax issues since 2006.
Council President Doug Joseph said four times should be enough.
"By large margins, Reynoldsburg voters have said 'no' four times to raising taxes," he said. "I believe that higher income taxes and efforts to reduce the income tax credit are no longer options and should clearly be off the table now."
The dilemma for council and Mayor Brad McCloud as they head into the budget season is how to juggle spending while finding ways to generate more revenue.
Joseph said some city officials still want to impose higher taxes to pay for increased spending on road repairs and police officers.
"Other city officials want to consolidate or merge some local government services and then pay for it by expanding economic development and bringing new tax dollars into the city," he said. "I believe those are the best options. Others have floated the idea of simply increasing city borrowing to pay for expanded municipal government."
Joseph said creating a balanced city budget by the end of March will be the No. 1 challenge for the new year.
An interim 2014 budget approved by council Dec. 9 allocates $14,835,606 for general fund expenses.
Revenue has not yet been projected; the city took in $14,008,320 in 2012.
"Council and the mayor will need to decide what the spending priorities are for the year and what cuts or spending reductions, if any, should be considered to fund those priorities," Joseph said.
McCloud said his administration will continue to work with council to explore more avenues to bring in revenue.
"This year should bring some great opportunities for the city of Reynoldsburg," he wrote in an email. "Development Director Dan Havener has a number of projects in the pipeline that will come to fruition, including the construction of a 15,000 square feet new building on Main Street.
"Parks Director Joe Brown also has a number of initiatives that will enhance our parks programming and provide more opportunities as well as revenue," he wrote.
Another challenge will be involving residents in decisions about Reynoldsburg's future, Joseph said.
"We need to do a better job engaging city residents in a needed conversation on the overall direction of the city," he said. "Other than knowing citizens defeated four tax increase requests by hefty margins, city officials know very little about what residents think about city government, spending priorities or what they expect from city officials.
"Council needs to think outside the box in developing a successful plan to generate more meaningful output from city residents," he said.
Councilman Barth Cotner said he is keeping a positive outlook about the new year, despite the obvious challenges.
"I always try to stay optimistic," he said. "There are many great things about Reynoldsburg. I love the people and this community, and I am proud to call this my home."
Cotner said the city can "get by" on the current revenue, but it won't fund needed improvements.
"We need to invest in our community to successfully move forward," he said. "We need improvements in our city's infrastructure, additions to safety needs and investment in the economic development of Reynoldsburg. Each of these concerns requires money, of course."
Cotner said the city should be proud of the way it manages tax dollars.
"Reynoldsburg collects less money than many comparable cities," he said. "So we have been challenged to see those dollars allocated efficiently, which I believe is a very good thing. My concern is that to keep Reynoldsburg the type of community of which we can be proud, we need to be investing into the community."
Cotner said holding a series of "town hall" meetings might be a good start.
"It was suggested at a council meeting that we host a town hall (meeting)," he said. "I would love to see this happen. One concern is the lack of community input and attendance at council meetings."
Cotner said he was encouraged to see some new faces at council meetings this past year.
"I believe the tax issue sparked their interest in attendance, but they came," he said. "They began to ask questions and speak out. Council and committees are always open, and while I wouldn't expect anyone to come every Monday, I would like to see more of our community attend those meetings.
"I want to hear what our community feels on the issues that affect their neighborhoods and homes," he said. "Council meetings are an opportunity to have them speak out."
The first Reynoldsburg City Council meeting of the year will be an organizational meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building, 7232 E. Main St.