Bellefontaine Examiner

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Committee asks administration to squeeze more from budget

Adding a two-percent raise for city employees slowed the budgeting process as members of the Bellefontaine City Council Finance Committee ponder the pay raise’s impact on the city’s financial position.

“It means we’re moving away from a balanced budget,” said Councilwoman Deb Baker.

Bellefontaine ended 2012 in the black, but just by a few hundred dollars in the general fund. In previous years, the city has used reserve funds to cover operating expenses.

The proposed budget this year allocates about $7.6 million for general fund operations, which includes police and fire.

City Auditor Jack Reser anticipates the city will have $7.5 million in revenue.

Bellefontaine has a carryover of $2.2 million from last year and that could grow if the economy continues to improve.

The raise for all 118 city employees will add just $85,000 to the general fund.

Overall, the city budgets for more than $24 million. That includes special revenue funds such as the streets and parks, and enterprise funds such as water and sewer.

Ms. Baker and Finance Chairman Mark Fissel asked the administration, Police Chief Brandon Standley and Fire Chief J.P. Schulz to go over the budget one more time to see if there is any way to trim operations further.

Ms. Baker realizes the city has to go ahead and honor the good faith negotiations with the police and fire unions. Going to arbitration could cost the city more in legal fees and end in a finding for greater wage increases.

“Can we squeeze anything else to make it a little less painful,” she asked.

“I don’t know where we can cut any further,” Chief Standley said. “If we continue to cut budgets, I’m not sure where you grow (as a community).”

In regular session, council members passed a first reading for the police union agreement.

An agreement with the firefighter union and pay ordinances for other city employees should be on the next agenda along with a permanent budget measure.

The council also approved a first reading authorizing the city administration to handle a Clean Ohio grant for a bicycle path from north of Urbana to the south end of Bellefontaine.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has awarded $500,000 toward the $800,000 project, and the Simon Kenton Pathfinders have more than $140,000 toward its goal of $300,000.

A major donation is expected next month and construction could begin this spring.

The next meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26.

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