Sidney Council looks at 5-year financial plan

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY — The city of Sidney’s new five-year financial plan predicts moderate growth for the income tax, a moderate increase in existing fees, some staff additions and street and capital improvement projects.

The 2020-2024 financial plan was introduced by Finance Officer Ginger Adams during Sidney City Council’s workshop session, Tuesday night.

The plan encompasses Sidney’s Comprehensive Plan, council’s goals that were set during the 2018 retreat on April 9, the long-term financial plan and capital planning to determine the annual budget. Council members received copies of the policy document for review at the Aug. 26 meeting.

The economic growth scenario for income tax, Adams said, indicates an average annual growth of 2.7 percent for the planning period, which supports the general fund. This will allow the addition of 13.96 FTE (full-time equivalent) staff member and seasonal positions to be filled, based upon renewal of the income tax levy. These include seven new Sidney Fire and Emergency Services positions for proposed fire station No. 3.

Adams reiterated the city’s goal to get voter approval in November 2019 for an additional .015 percent income tax funds for streets, bridges, curb and gutters, estimated at about $8.7 million between 2020-2024, as well as an additional 0.15 percent to fund a third fire station, staffing, operations.

There are several proposed staffing changes for 2020-2021. If the Gary Clough retires, the assistant city manager and public works director positions he holds would return to be held separately by two employees. Also pending levy renewal, seven firefighters would be added for Fire Station No. 3, and pending Shelby County cost sharing, an IT analyst will be added. Other proposed changes are to add a custodian for cleaning services, to reinstate a food service program supervisor, to transfer funding for the vacant property inspector and Municipal Court to be derived from the general fund, to hire a full-time telecommunicator and revenue collections account clerk.

Adams pointed out, due to Marcy’s Law, an amendment of the Ohio Constitution passed in 2017, a deputy clerk was needed for additional workload to be in compliance.

Part time transit drivers hours will be transitioned to full time drivers, and code enforcement officer and parking enforcement officer will added.

Proposed seasonal staffing include triennial curb painting labor and biennial hydrant maintenance labor will be added by 2024.

With these staffing changes, excluding additions to a potential Fire Station No. 3, the city’s staffing level will be 2.6 percent lower in 2024 than it was in 2008. The city cut employees after the 2008 economic downturn.

As the state has continued to cut revenues it used to share with local governments, the city has increased its dependence on the income tax. During the plan overview, Adams said the city of Sidney’s revenue from direct collections is down for the year by almost 10 percent. This revenue is from businesses’ profits, which is generated from municipal income tax collections by withholding taxes from people working within the city. Direct collections is a volatile source and is prone to the up and down fluctuations over many years, she said. The reason it is down, Adams said, is because the relief funds, primarily for corporate entities, are up.

An average of 2.4 percent annual increase is projected over the planning period in the withholding income tax, which is the city’s “bread and butter,” as Adams put it. The total amount of income tax collections, of 2.7 percent from 2020-2024 is projected to be $17.2 million.

The general fund’s cash reserve must be at or above the 20 percent of expenditures for each year. It provides 73 days of cash. Seventy-three percent of the employees’ salaries/wages, benefits and taxes also makes up the general fund. Adams said city staff closely monitors collections monthly. Staff makes adjustments mid-year to the fire-year budget as needed to make sure the general fund stays above the minimum reserve amount. This is another reason the five-year plan is revised annually, she said.

The proposed staffing for the north-end Fire Station No. 3 would begin in 2020 with nine employees, seven paid from levy proceeds and two from the general fund, Adams said. It would be located on the 11.5 acres of land the city purchased in 2016. Estimated cost to build the station is $4.3 million, with $1.6 million estimated for the furnishings and equipment.

Some discussion ensued among council members about the need for the levy to pass in November to get enough firefighters/paramedics’ “boots on the streets” to serve the community. City Manager Cundiff provided statistics on the number of firefighters/paramedics over the years and increase in call volume since 1992. He noted in 1992, Sidney Fire had nine members (per day) to handle 2,030 calls for service that year. In 1993, the department increased staff to 10 to handle 2,309 calls. In 1999, the department increased staff again to 11 to respond to 2,986 calls that year. The fire department kept 11 staff members until the recession hit and in 2008, he said, and then the number was cut back to 10 staff members. To date, the department has continued to maintain 10 staff members per day to respond to calls since 2008, but the amount of calls for service has increased to 4,066 in 2018.

“In my opinion, everybody talks about a third (fire) station, this is really an operations levy. Getting enough boots on the street to cover, regardless of how many stations we have. However, by passing the levy we will get that third fire station and it will spread out that personnel and we will be able to cover the whole city with the additional personnel that we will have. So it’s an operation levy. The added bonus is getting a third fire station,” Cundiff said.

Adams continued her presentation of the plan by showing that residents will see an increase in their city utility bills (water, sewer, stormwater and refuse). A low-volume user is anticipated to pay $58.15 per month next year, an increase of $1.65 per month in 2020. The figure for the average family of four will be $117.37, an increase of $3.59 per month in 2020.

She then reviewed street, cemetery, stormwater, water and several other funds. Adams also presented operating and capital cost information about the proposed fire station No 3. New this year, she said, is an additional gas tax of about $450,000 is expected to be received annually for the street fund, which will then be transferred to the capital improvement fund to street projects.

Adams also reviewed the list of capital improvement projects planned for the next five years. Total spending in the capital improvement fund is budgeted to be $30.8 million.

Within the capital improvement fund budget, Streets, traffic and bridge projects total about $15.9 million; 52 percent is primarily funded through grants.

Other than streets, the largest capital improvements are $3.4 million in parks and cemetery improvement projects.

Council will further deliberate questions during the plan’s review at the Sept. 9 regular council meeting. It will be considered for adoption on Sept. 23.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.