With another budget process completed, Westerville leaders believe the city is healthy and stable heading into 2018.

The city has plans for more than $37.6 million in expenditures funded by more than $41.4 million in revenue, while maintaining a general fund balance of $23.7 million in 2018.

City Council was expected to approve the 2018 budget at its regular meeting Tuesday, Dec. 5.

During the budget process, Westerville also estimates its budget for a full five years, adding context and future planning to the process.

City Manager David Collinsworth told council that city staff members planned for a general-fund operating expense growth of about 3.1 percent, "a liberal estimate of our anticipated expenses," and then "conservatively estimated" revenues at 2.1 percent average annual growth throughout that five years.

He also said he expected "turnbacks," unused funds that can be sent back to the general fund from multiple city departments. He expected to receive more than $1.5 million from turnbacks alone.

Finance Director Lee Ann Shortland said those two strategies are major contributors to what she called a "very healthy" city budget outlook.

"We consistently project our revenues very conservatively, and that's not an accidental situation," she said. "We project for much less than we actually receive. And ... we have these turnbacks every year ... and we plan to have turnbacks. We pride ourselves on having those."

Collinsworth said the city is expecting its largest expense, personnel, to remain consistent, with no net additional spending planned over the next five years.

That consistency can be applied across the board in Westerville, and Shortland said that's a good thing.

"There really isn't anything that's changed significantly, staff-wise or cost-wise," she said.

Shortland said a healthy budget contributes to the city's good credit rating. Credit-rating agencies Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC both gave Westerville a AAA bond rating last year, the best bond rating available.

"When you go back and look at Moody's and Standard & Poors and what they had rated us at AAA, you have to be extremely healthy in order to get that rating," she said.

A major part of those ratings is the city's commitment to having a large amount of funding reserved in its general fund. Westerville's policy is to keep 50 percent of the total annual expenditures available in the general fund, a policy that Shortland said is crucial.

"We are, in effect, setting aside six months for the cash that we want to have in the bank month-in and month-out," she said.

Like most Ohio cities, Shortland said Westerville has seen a "pretty significant decline" in funding from the state. She also said the city has seen a significant reduction in investment earnings since the recession.

But as the economy has improved, so have the city's investments.

She said the city expects about $1 million from investments this year, the highest since they were expecting around $3 million before the recession.

"We saw a decline in investment earnings as the investment rates went significantly lower, even though we kept our capital that was invested," she said. "But what we're seeing now and what we're told by our investment consultants is that, as the interest rates are kicking up, we can expect more."

Shortland said she sees a "very healthy outlook" for the city over the next five years, and hopes residents feel the same way.

"We are being good stewards with the money they've trusted us with, and our doors are open for them to let us know if they see something that needs to be looked at more strongly," she said. "We take great pride in making sure that we're protecting these funds - and not only the funds, but the assets that are purchased with the funds. If they see something differently, we want to hear from them."

For more information and the city's full budget, visit www.Westerville.org.

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