Lima finance committee reviews city budgets

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — For the City of Lima’s budget, a strong economy has helped create a healthy general fund cash balance and pushed city staffing to the highest level its seen since 2003. Both city expenditures and revenue are estimated to continue that upward trend for 2019.

During the first of three public meetings scheduled this week by City Council’s Finance Committee, Finance Director Steve Cleaves presented some of the overlying trends of the proposed 2019 budget — pointing out upward trends and future concerns — to a small crowd comprised mostly of city officials.

In general, the city is in good shape, Cleaves said

“Manpower shows how we picked up people since the end of the recession. At the same time, we’re also maintaining that cash balance,” Cleaves said.

At the end of 2018, Lima’s general fund cash balance currently stands at $8.5 million — up $0.8 million from last year.

As for manpower, 424 individual are employed by the city. The city’s lowest staffing level stood at 364 employees in 2012.

Due to the upward trends, the city has set its estimated expenditures for 2019 at $36.3 million and estimated revenue for 2019 at $32.4 million. In terms of percentage, 2019 estimates compared to last year are 4.1 percent higher for expenditures and 2.4 percent for revenues.

According to Cleaves’ presentation, Lima’s budget is mostly used to pay for employee salaries and their benefits. The rest — $8.6 million, or one fourth — is categorized as other expenses and capital costs.

As for breakdown by department, safety services, which consists of the Lima Police Department, Lima Fire Department and city courts, eat the lion’s share of the city’s budget, or roughly two-thirds of estimated expenditures.

One thing that Cleaves pointed out as worth a close look throughout 2019 is health insurance costs. Since 2014, health insurance expenditures have jumped by $2.4 million, or roughly 40 percent.

“Health insurance costs are really accelerating. We have quite a few additional people on the payroll, but those costs are still a real concern. We will be watching that very carefully this year,” Cleaves said.

After Cleaves left the podium, a number of department heads presented their departmental budgets.

During the budget presentation of City Auditor Randall Bartels, Councilor Sam McLean pointed out a $90,000 allocation to a special IT services fund, which was created earlier this year to better track technology expenditures. One of the more heated discussions had by Lima City Council in 2018 was the creation of an enterprise technology department pushed by the city’s administration. It eventually failed due, in part, to concerns of whether its head would be appointed by the mayor or chosen through the civil services board. In the 2019 budget, $90,000 has been set aside for that personnel cost, but that head position has not officially been created yet, Bartels said.

Lima City Council’s Finance Committee will be hearing from the rest of the city’s department heads on Wednesday and Thursday night. On Wednesday, the committee will review the budgets of the police and fire departments as well as public works. During Thursday night’s meeting, the budgets of mostly administrative departments, including the mayor’s office and the human resources department, will be discussed.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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