The Lima News
City administrators and the head of the Lima City Council Finance committee went out of their way last week to defend the 2014 budget requests as affordable. Still, you would have thought it was Christmas in January after several department heads presented their wish lists to the finance committee.
The Fire Department is seeking seven additional firefighters, of which three have already been hired. Police Chief Kevin Martin is asking for five more police officers. Utility Director Gary Sheely wants a 2 percent increase, which may not sound like a lot, but it comes on top of recent hikes to residential water rates. Jim Link, the clerk of courts, believes an 11-percent jump would work for his department. Economic and Community Development Director Amy Odum has her hand out for an 8 percent increase from 2013, requesting a vehicle code enforcement officer be added to her staff. The tax department wants to increase its spending to hire an accounting clerk’s position that has been vacant for eight years.
What we haven’t heard, however, is anyone from council asking tough questions about how any of these positions will be used or how the city will maintain funding them years down the road. As is, expenditures for 2014 are listed at $28.8 million with revenues coming in slightly below that at $27.9 million. That difference can be made up this year by using part of the $8.8 million general fund carryover balance into 2014. However, this isn’t the answer for the future.
We understand the departments are coming off years of tough budgeting constraints. The fire and police departments, in particular, have been running up large amounts of overtime while operating short-handed. Safety services do need to be a priority.
The city also should address the needs of the Public Works department. As Howard Elstro noted, there is “rolling stock to replace, and there are some things you can continue to patch only so long.”
However, does the city really need to fill a clerk’s position that has been vacant for eight years? One would surmise that during that time the tax department has found a way to absorb the duties. Is a car czar really needed, especially if five police officers are to be added? Are the numbers being presented in all department budgets realistic, or is some fuzzy math being used to make things look better on paper?
Caution should remain the rule of city budgeting, especially when national forecasters continue to report an unstable economy. Lima must be careful not to ease away from the tough budgeting practices that helped the city avoid the financial problems experienced by communities like Findlay.
Some department heads understand this.
City law director Tony Geiger proposed a budget that was virtually identical to 2013, as did the Fire Department and Civil Service Board Secretary Andrew King.
Lima doesn’t have a spending problem right now. It’s the job of council to make sure that holds true in the future. It can start at Monday’s council meeting by putting away the rubber stamp and asking, “Do we really need all of this?”