Reynoldsburg News

Budget talks continue

Council eyes code compliance, lights, police

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The line seems to be clearly drawn in Reynoldsburg's continuing quest to nail down its 2014 city budget.

On one side are department heads who present their needs -- with associated costs. On the other are members of Reynoldsburg City Council's finance committee, who are trying to find a way to best distribute anticipated revenue.

As demonstrated in special finance committee meetings Jan. 21 and Jan. 27, the gulf between the two sides can be wide and council members don't always agree on how to proceed.

Police Chief Jim O'Neill and Service Director Nathan Burd were the latest department heads to present and defend their proposed 2014 budgets.

When Burd asked about adding two part-time code compliance officers at a cost of $40,560 to his 2014 budget, Councilman Scott Barrett not only asked him to consider nixing that idea, but to think about eliminating code compliance altogether.

"What if there was an entire removal of that department to study a later reinforcement of it?" Barrett asked. "We've been doing the same thing for a long time and have to look at different and creative ways of doing things."

Barrett said eliminating code compliance might demonstrate that certain services can't be provided "when residents say no to more money."

"I can show you why that is an awful idea," Burd replied, noting there were 2,580 code violations written in Reynoldsburg last year.

"We would go from a perceived weakness in the city to a debacle," he said. "If you take away what we're doing now, I promise you would notice it. I don't see how the city can move forward if we take away our code compliance officers."

Burd said the city's two code compliance officers make a combined salary of about $40,000. They help to persuade residents to mow high grass and they deal with code violations without the use of city funds.

"Every day we get voluntary compliance from citizens because our people are talking to them about code violations," he said.

Councilwoman Leslie Kelly agreed the code compliance department is essential.

"I would like to explore an increase in code compliance officers," she said. "I think it is like not having enough police officers on the street."

Burd said some service department expenses, such as utility costs for street lighting, tend to go up each year. In 2013, he said, the city spent $239,449.83 on street lights.

"There are 2,090 street lights in the city and it costs money to have them on," he said. "We could convert those to LED lights to save money, but that would cost at least $1 million to make a citywide conversion.

"Unfortunately, the only way to save money there is to turn the lights off," he said.

Councilman Mel Clemens said there is one street light on his street and he doesn't want it turned off.

Clemens also suggested it would be more useful to him if Mayor Brad McCloud were to present council with a budget that includes a certain percentage cut from each department's allocations.

"The mayor brings us a budget and we either support it or change it," he said. "If everyone has to take a 5-percent cut, then we should do that. We are supposed to balance the budget. So whatever revenue is coming in, that is what we have to decide on.

"When I look at Nathan's budget, for example, he spent $430,000 last year and wants to spend $520,000 this year," Clemens said. "That is what we should be addressing."

Burd said the extra dollars are necessary in part to restructure the city engineering department by hiring a consulting engineering firm.

Chief O'Neill said the police department has been "pedaling along paying the bills," but some major expenses are coming up that he did not put in his 2014 budget, including a revamping of cruiser cameras, which could cost $400,000.

"I did not include that in this budget because I'm working on ideas for funding for that," he said.

He said department salaries are fixed because they are under contract, but he submitted a spreadsheet comparing non-salary budget requests for 2013 and 2014. The total requested for 2013 was $963,161 and the requested amount for 2014 was $935,693.

However, O'Neill said those numbers do not include officer overtime; those requests were for $100,000 in 2013 and $150,000 in 2014.

When Kelly questioned overtime amounts, O'Neill said although he asked for $100,000 in 2013, the department actually spent $250,000 "trying to replace people who weren't there" because of military deployments.

City Auditor Richard Harris said the original overtime request for 2013 was $200,000, but that was cut by $100,000 when the 2013 city budget was approved.

Kelly asked O'Neill what his department would look like if council asked for a 5-percent or 10-percent overall budget cut.

"It would look like payroll expenses were being paid and that's it," O'Neill said.

The next special finance committee meeting to discuss the budget will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, at the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building, 7232 E. Main St.

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