Thursday, October 9, 2008

John Matuszak reports: Bexley council wrestles with budget, police bids

Is the starting gun ready to fire on construction of a new Bexley police station?

And could a tax increase request be on the horizon?

On the police station, it's "Ready - aim - wait."

As it moved achingly close to approving a bid on the long-anticipated station, council members last night opted to wait at least one more week before giving the green light to the $7.6 million project.

In the meantime, representatives are agonizing over next year's budget and appear anxious about whether they can even afford to build the new station.

At the Tuesday finance committee meeting, council members Rick Weber and Mark Masser argued that the public should be given one more chance to speak out about such a large expenditure - even though the public has been mostly mute over the 10 years the project has been debated.

On the table is an ordinance that would okay spending an additional $850,000 on the construction of the station. The ordinance received its first reading at a special council meeting after the finance committee discussion.

It is expected to have a second reading and a possible vote at the October 14 meeting.

The added expenditure became necessary when the first round of bids came in $1 million over the architect's original estimate, which has since been revised upward.

In the second round of bidding, Thomas and Marker Construction came in with the lowest offer of seven companies with a bid of $5,424,400.

Finance Director Beecher Hale has included the almost $500,000 in debt payments on the financing of the full project in next year's budget.

That budget estimates $11.5 million in spending through 2009, and $9.2 million in revenue, for a budget deficit of $1.6 million.

That scenario would deplete the city's fund balance, taking it from this year's $2.1 million to a little over $400,000 by the end of next year.

The city also has a $1 million rainy day fund for emergencies.

Hale blamed the persistent spending gap on tax revenues that have remained flat over the last several years, coupled with increasing labor, health care and other costs.

He pointed out that Mayor John Brennan and members of the administration have reduced spending requests for 2009 by a little over $600,000 in comparison to the current budget.

That might not be enough, some council members said.

Councilman Ben Kessler suggested that the administration should continue to tighten its belt until the projected fund balance for next year is at $1 million.

Mayor Brennan responded that he might be able to squeeze the budget a little more and get the year-end balance close to $500,000, but doubted the city could reach the $1 million mark.

"I think I've skinned the cat pretty well," Brennan said.

Councilman Weber interjected that the city could improve its bottom line by having residents vote on a tax issue to pay for the police station.

Councilwoman Robyn Jones floated the idea of requiring a balanced budget, but Brennan said that would be a mistake and would require laying off employees, including police officers.

Councilman Jed Morison suggested revisiting the budget in six months, but Kessler is worried that the city doesn't have six months before the global financial crisis worsens.

The budget picture ultimately affects large projects such as the police station, and the current fiscal crisis has officials questioning whether this is the best time to borrow.

Part of Brennan's plan to improve the city's financial standing is to convene a task force of citizens who would study the budget situation and make recommendations on cutting spending and boosting revenue. Those interested can get more information on the city's web site.

This could include a tax increase request next year. Brennan said he would prefer to ask for the increase before the school district places an issue on the ballot in 2010.

Councilman Masser expressed his approval of having a citizens' task force and added that the city needs to find a way to increase its revenue. Masser has been an advocate of a "tax equalization" plan that would bring the income tax rate paid by people who work in Bexley with residents who work outside the city.

WCRX-LP Editorial Collective
Bexley Public Radio Foundation broadcasting as
WCRX-LP, 102.1 FM, Local Power Radio
2700 E. Main St., Suite 208
Columbus, OH 43209
Voice (614) 235 2929
Fax (614) 235 3008

Bexley Public Radio Foundation broadcasting as WCRX-LP, 102.1 FM is exempt from federal taxes under IRC Section 501(c)(3). Donations are deductible from federal income taxes for individuals who itemize. Checks may identify the payee as Bexley Public Radio Foundation WCRX-LP, 102.1 FM.

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

No comments: