Westerville's financial outlook remains bright, as city council prepares to approve the city's 2019 budget.

Westerville heads into 2019 with an increasing general-fund balance and an uptick in funding, allowing the city to spend more on capital improvements while continuing to pad its rainy-day fund, according to city officials.

Within an overall budget of about $214 million, the city expects to spend just over $38 million from its general fund in 2019, with revenue of more than $44 million allowing extra spending and saving.

In the city's five-year forecast, expenses are expected to increase by 2.8 percent in 2019 and by an average of 1.7 percent annually over five years. Meanwhile, revenue is expected to increase by 5.7 percent in 2019 and by an average of 3 percent annually over five years, according to city documents. Those increases should allow the city to spend more money on capital improvements, up to 24 percent of the budget in 2019, and add more to its general-fund balance, which is expected to remain above its target of 50 percent of its annual expenditures throughout the five years.

Councilwoman Diane Fosselman said she was particularly pleased with the increase in capital-improvements spending.

"We continue to have many opportunities to use those funds, so I'm glad we've got that back up to 24 percent," she said.

City Manager David Collinsworth said he also expects the city to save about $2 million in "turnbacks" or unspent funding from various city departments in 2018.

While revenue is outpacing costs, Collinsworth said the city isn't rushing to spend more on labor, its most significant expenditure.

"From an overall cost standpoint, I think it's important to note that as a service provider, our biggest costs relate to our personnel," he said. "This budget, like many recent ones, had relatively limited growth in terms of staffing. In this case, there are no additional net positions that are being proposed. In fact, we have already contracted by two meter-reader positions over what has been authorized."

The only increase in staffing costs for 2019, Collinsworth said, is the hiring of two police officerss ahead of two expected retirements in the department. He said that should compensate for the length of that hiring process.

"The early replacement in advance of those new officers simply reflects the extensive time period involved, from the point of beginning recruitment and selection to the point that you have officers through the process and hired," he said.

The staffing cost for most employees is expected to remain steady, with a 2.75 percent increase for non-collectively bargained employees next year.

The city has struggled with increasing healthcare prices in the past, but Collinsworth said that increase has leveled off.

"We've had good success in the past year in terms of trying to take some of the steel off the growth we've seen in the benefits arena over the last few years," he said. "That has born some fruit, as we're expecting zero-percent growth in our self-insured medical plan (cost) for employees in 2019."

For more information, including the full budget and five-year forecast, visit westerville.org.

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