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Council studies ’13 finances

November 14, 2012
By DAVE GOSSETT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - City Council will meet in private session Thursday to discuss a projected $822,000 general fund year-end deficit that may see personnel reductions and changes to two city departments.

Council met in executive session for 95 minutes Tuesday night with City Manager Cathy Davison and Finance Director Alyssa Kerker prior to a scheduled sunshine meeting and decided to continue the budget review at 5 p.m. Thursday in a closed-door executive session.

"We will continue our discussions and continue to look at administration proposals in regards to our personnel and services provided to the community," announced Davison after the council meeting.

Davison said the city's finance office has projected the $822,000 deficit in the city's general fund, "as of Oct. 31. We are working very hard to reduce that deficit as we move forward."

The city manager is set to meet at 5 p.m. today with the parks and recreation board and the three council recreation committee members to discuss the recreation budget for 2013.

She also is scheduled to meet Thursday morning with the city board of health to discuss the city health department.

"We are looking at different ways we can collaborate with the county. We are looking at our health department. We have not yet held formal discussions with the Jefferson County Health Department. And a decision must be made by the city's board of health. I will be meeting with them Thursday," said Davison.

"We are also looking at our recreation department. We have had local conversations with the YMCA regarding the possibility of a managing agreement for the Belleview Pool and the Martin Luther King Recreation Center. The recreation board along with the council recreation committee and I met with officials from the YMCA. We lost $61,000 at the pool this year, and the MLK Center lost $236,109 last year. We are hoping for a response from the YMCA soon," Davison said.

Recreation Director Troy Kirkendall asked recreation board members at the October meeting to consider future projects, including the repair or dismantling of the Belleview Swimming Pool sliding board.

He estimated repairs for the slide could cost as much as $75,000.

Kirkendall reported in October the Belleview Pool has lost significant money during the past 10 years.

"Municipal pools don't make money unless they have all kinds of extra attractions. A pool is usually a service to the community. You usually don't make money on a pool. And I am asking the board to think about future plans for the pool," said Kirkendall.

The recreation director announced at the October meeting the Belleview Park field lights "are in bad shape."

"We had an initial estimate of $460,000 from Musco Lighting for the complete replacement of our lights with new poles and wiring. That is something we may want to look at doing in stages. And we may want to look for funding sources for the project," noted Kirkendall.

"We don't need to make a decision now but I would ask the board members to think about these issues for discussion at the November board meeting," stated Kirkendall.

"And we are looking at cost reductions in the municipal court. I have met with the judge and will meet with him again today," added Davison.

"The police and fire departments won't be touched," Davison added.

She added she met with the city's three employee unions Tuesday afternoon to discuss proposed changes in the city health care program, but the unions voted against her proposal for "greater employee contribution to the health care coverage and an increase in prescription coverage."

"We have major expenses in our health care costs. The city is self insured and this year we saw a few claims that resulted in a 16 percent increase over last year at this time," noted Davison.

"We are looking at the reduction of five to seven jobs. First we will look at reducing the jobs through attrition. We have a number of city employees with 20 years or more service. Because of the changes in the state pension plans some employees are considering their retirement options now as opposed to continue working. If we don't see enough employees retire, we will have to look at layoffs," said Davison.

"I am also asking for authorization to go with Ohio Rural Community Assistance Program for a study of our water rates and the possibility of restructuring those rates. There is a possibility the Ohio Water Development Authority could come in and change our rates if they determine we cannot make our debt service payments and not carry a deficit," Davison cited.

"And we are looking at changes in the water fund. We are looking at changing our collection process. We currently use Capital Recovery Systems but are considering a law firm collection agency that has the ability to take delinquent accounts to court in order to collect those accounts," said Davison.

She said the budget deficit can be blamed on several factors, including utility costs and cuts in Local Government Funding from the state.

"We have seen an increase in our utility costs. Our gas costs are higher this year even using the state purchasing program. Everything is more expensive and it is all compounded by the reduction in our local government funding. It is a problem every municipality is facing," stated Davison.

"And while the shale industry is having a positive effect countywide, we are not seeing the financial impact in the city. We do not share in the county's sales and usage tax. So while there are several new businesses opening in the city, the impact on our city income tax is minimal at this point," Davison said.

"Yes, we saw city voters approve the renewal of our operating levy last week. But those levy rates are based on real estate valuations from the 1960s. And because we are an aging community, we have a number of retirees who have qualified for the Homestead Exemption so they pay a reduced property tax. The financial issues we are facing are being felt by communities throughout the area," remarked Davison.

"We are facing hard times. Difficult decisions have to be made. Jefferson County is starting to prosper but the city isn't seeing the financial impact. Jefferson County has the third highest unemployment rate in the state. And looking at the unemployment rate on a county-by-county basis Jefferson County had a higher unemployment rate in September than each of our surrounding counties," Davison said.

In other matters Tuesday night, 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich introduced emergency legislation during the council sunshine meeting authorizing the city manager to proceed with emergency repairs to the lower University Boulevard sanitary sewer system.

Assistant Wastewater Superintendent Chuck Murphy told council two weeks ago the sewer line is in need of immediate repairs.

"We have a very bad section of approximately 1,200 feet of combined sewer pipe about 30 feet deep that runs from the Hampton Inn parking lot to the Seventh Street intersection with University and to the Inland Co. It is made out of block stone and brick and may be more than 100 years old," explained Murphy.

"We will be able to do the work repairing the combined sanitary and storm sewer underground without digging up the roadway. But we will also have to backfilll a void that has been created by the leaking sewer line. If that is not done there is the possibility of a sinkhole eventually developing in that area," Murphy advised council.

Lalich also introduced an ordinance authorizing the city manager to sign a contract with Plugsmart to review the city's utility bills in order to determine if savings can be found.

And Lalich proposed a resolution opposing a proposed bill now pending in the Ohio House of Representatives "that is aimed at creating uniformity measures for municipal income tax measures."

The Ohio Municipal League has opposed the bill.

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