Upper Arlington News

Guest column

Task force will begin city financial review Dec. 16

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When Upper Arlington City Council convened a year ago to review and adopt the 2013-2014 budget, we were made aware by staff that our 2013 budget was balanced but the picture would be very different for 2014 -- a taste of things to come in future years if we don't take action.

Thanks to continued efforts by staff to cut costs, along with several revenue sources exceeding projections, we are set to end 2013 under budget and with additional revenues further building our reserves.

However, the impacts of reduced funding from the state and the loss of the estate tax will be felt more starkly in the coming year.

We applaud staff for reducing what was a $1.8-million deficit in the 2014 budget to approximately $500,000, through continued staffing reductions and belt-tightening by departments.

While we hope it won't be necessary to use much or any general fund reserves to fill the gap, and we are confident that staff's efforts in the coming months will further reduce the deficit, the situation before us warrants council authorization to use city reserves, if necessary, to bring the 2014 budget into balance.

Looking ahead for the long term, we must face the following facts:

•Without action, we are on a path that will erode our general fund reserves in short order -- to a point that they will fall below our required reserve policy by late 2016 or early 2017.

•Few options remain for further reducing the city's operating budget without a tangible loss in services.

•We have limited opportunity for expanding revenues.

•To address a backlog of infrastructure needs, staff has developed a proposed 10-year capital improvements program that, if implemented in full, will cost in the ballpark of $10 million each year to fund.

•Additional proposals at the state level to create a more uniform municipal income tax could further erode our income potential.

Faced with these daunting facts, council and staff recognize that successfully addressing the city's financial challenges must be a team effort. By "team," we are referring to council, staff and the community we serve.

To that effect, we have convened a 13-member task force comprised of residents with appropriate professional expertise and community involvement to undertake a difficult but extremely important task for our community.

The first meeting of the newly appointed Citizen Financial Review Task Force is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 16, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Services Center, 3600 Tremont Road.

They will map out how to tackle the charge before them, which in summary is:

To review the city's cost-reduction efforts to date, consider best practices and identify possible near-term strategies for additional savings.

To determine the long-range impacts of revenue losses and reductions, and their impacts to future operating and capital improvement budgets.

•To assess the potential for strengthening long-term revenue prospects.

To review near-term and long-term capital needs and identify potential funding sources.

We are confident that we have selected an exceptional and talented team from community members and look forward to hearing back from the task force next year. We also encourage all in the Upper Arlington community to make 2014 the year that you tune in to our discussions of the city's financial situation.

In today's political climate, we see too many instances where those of differing political beliefs disagree for the sake of disagreeing, engage in one-upmanship and forget that their role is to adopt policies that solve the problem and meet the need.

At last week's council retreat, as we debated issues, it was clear that we are a council of differing viewpoints and beliefs who are all passionate about our community of choice, and we understand our role here is to make good decisions for our citizens that solve the problems and meet our collective needs.

We extend our appreciation to the city manger, finance director and all of staff. This is a challenging time for them as they work to right-size the organization while maintaining high standards, and as we plan ahead for a bright future.

Don Leach and Frank Ciotola are president and vice president of Upper Arlington City Council, respectively.

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