Wednesday, October 22, 2008

John Matuszak reports: Bexley City Council member wants deeper budget cuts.

Bexley City Councilman Ben Kessler wants to cut as much as $500,000 from next year's budget to keep available reserves from dipping to a dangerously low level.

Kessler presented his ideas during an Oct. 21 finance committee meeting. He emphasized that his proposals are "talking points" to get the debate going on achieving real savings in 2009.

The city is projected tp spend $2.1 million more than it takes in for 2009. That would take the year-end general fund balance down to around $200,000. That's in contrast to this year's expected balance of $1.9 million.

Kessler says the $200,000 balance projection scares him, and if the city has a bad year for income tax or estate tax collections - its main sources of revenue - it could find itself "over the edge."

One of Kessler's suggestions is to reduce the amount of money going to the parks and recreation department from the general fund by $200,000. This could be achieved by making the administration of the department more efficient, reducing unprofitable programs and raising some rates.

Kessler has also suggested reducing the transfer to the street fund by $150,000.

Auditor Larry Heiser pointed out that cutting those transfers would affect personnel in those departments.

Council is also looking at a new health care package that could cut costs by reducing the number of claims made by employees.

The representatives are banking on the recommendations of a newly formed economic advisory task force for guidance, while conceding that they can't wait until next year to take action.

Heiser said the 16-member task force is expected to hold its first meeting some time after election day. The group was formed by Mayor John Brennan to study the city's budget situation and make recommendations on ways to cut expenditures and increase revenue - including a possible tax issue on the fall ballot.

The task force is being modeled on a similar effort by the school district before it requested the passage of an income tax.

Councilman Jeff McClelland said that the task force should have a written mission statement to provide guidance, and its proceedings should be open to the public.

Service Director Bill Harvey added that the task force should realize that city officials are looking to make major changes in the millions of dollars, and not just minor adjustments, to its budget picture.

A report is expected by April or May, to give council enough time to decide on a possible ballot issue. Harvey said the task force should have a firm deadline to submit its report.

The next finance committee meeting to discuss the budget will be held Monday, Nov. 3, at 6 p.m. Council has its next regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m.

Reported by John Matuszak for Bexley Public Radio.

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Design is copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Bexley Public Radio Foundation. Text is copyright 2008. All rights reserved. John Matuszak.

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