Council looks at 5-year financial plan

By Michael Seffrin -

SIDNEY — The city’s five-year financial plan forecasts moderate growth in the income tax, with some staff additions, and includes numerous street projects and other capital improvement spending.

The plan was presented at Tuesday night’s Sidney City Council workshop session. Council will review it at the Sept. 14 meeting and consider adopting it Sept. 28. The plan will be reflected in the 2016 budget ordinance that council will consider at the Nov. 23 meeting.

Finance Officer Ginger Adams presented the plan. It predicts average annual growth of 2.7 percent in the income tax, which supports the general fund. This will allow addition of some staff, primarily seasonal, or positions that would be funded in later years of the plan.

Proposed seasonal staffing changes include parks and grounds, cemetery, wastewater treatment plant, street paving and curb painting, planning intern and an engineering intern (every other year). This amounts to an addition of 3.92 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. Because they are seasonal jobs, the city could cut them if tax revenue does not meet expectations.

Proposed part-time staffing changes would include adding a water plant operator-in-training in 2017 (0.75 FTE). This would alleviate overtime and reduce staff turnover. Also proposed is replacing part-time Shelby Public Transit drivers with full-time drivers to reduce turnover and improve on-time performance and driver skill levels (1.06 FTE). Adams noted there have been several accidents involving transit drivers.

Among full-time staffing changes proposed is the addition of two firefighters in 2016. They would work a new 12-hour shift during times of peak demand to reduce overtime. The estimated five-year cost of this addition is $1.1 million.

Other full-time staffing changes proposed are the addition of a water treatment plant operator next year (this is in connection with the city’s development of a new water source); addition of a planner position in 2018 (to review plans/permits and investigate complaints/violations); and addition of a Municipal Court deputy clerk in 2020 (if increased caseload supports this).

With all these staffing changes, the city’s staffing level still would be 9 percent lower in 2020 (222 FTE) than it was in 2008 (243 FTE). The city cut employees after the 2008 economic downturn.

Wage increases are minimal in the five-year plan, Adams said. Currently, they range from 1.5 to 2 percent; some employee groups are still negotiating with the city.

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. In 2007, the income tax made up 61 percent of general fund revenues; in 2014 it was 70 percent. Adams said the growth in local income tax collections is largely due to corporate estimated payments; future income tax levels are uncertain.

The city could face even more funding cuts if the state Legislature passes a proposed “pay where you live” law for income taxes. If that happens, the city would lose $6 million to $7 million annually, plus $1.25 million that has been earmarked for street improvements, Adams said.

Councilman Darryl Thurber asked how the city would respond should such drastic revenue cuts occur.

City Manager Mark Cundiff said the city’s “economic disaster plan” calls for cuts in personnel, as that makes up the bulk of expenses. Some programs and services would have to reduced. Mayor Mike Barhorst said closing of parks would be among necessary actions under such a “doomsday plan.”

Adams also reviewed street, stormwater, water, solid waste and several other funds.

In stormwater, council next year may consider increasing the current stormwater fee that covers operating costs of the program. It’s the lowest rate in the state now, and even if raised, still would be relatively low, Cundiff said. The increased revenue could be used for stormwater capital spending; that currently is funded by income tax dollars.

Concerning the parking enforcement fund, council discussed the pros and cons of reinstating the position of parking enforcement officer in 2017; those duties currently are covered by police officer overtime of about $12,000 a year. Subsidy from the income tax would be needed to fund a parking enforcement officer, Adams said.

Barhorst asked if the $5 price for parking tickets could be increased enough to fund the officer.

“We get a good deal of complaints about the $5 tickets,” Police Chief Will Balling said.

There is some good news for residents concerning their city utility bills (water, sewer, stormwater and refuse). A low-volume user will pay $51.34 per month next year — a 10.02 percent drop from this year. The figure for the average family of four will be $103.73 — a 3.86 percent decrease.

Cundiff reviewed the list of capital improvement projects planned over the next five years, with an emphasis on 2016 work. Total spending in the capital improvement fund next year is budgeted about $6.84 million.

Street projects next year total about $2.61 million, although much of that is funded by Ohio Department of Transportation grants. The single largest project is the $1.23 million State Route 47 project involving driveway and traffic signal upgrades between Vandemark Road and Walnut Avenue.

The $1.54 million in bridge projects next year include the Michigan Street bridge over the CSX Railroad ($1.15 million). Large vehicles, including fire trucks, currently can’t use the bridge. ODOT will pay much of the cost.

Although at $51,516 it’s not a comparatively large amount of money, there will be a significant purchase in the Police Department next year of the first body cameras for officers. The department is replacing the old cameras in patrol cars this year.

Capital spending for various other city operations is listed in several other funds, including the new municipal earned income tax for street capital fund. This was created to keep track of revenues from the five-year, 0.25 percent addition to the tax that voters approved last year. These revenues may only be used for street and related projects. About $3.3 million is budgeted for these projects next year.

By Michael Seffrin

The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.

The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.