Tomlinson to propose smaller city budget for fiscal 2014

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comApril 29, 2013 

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson will propose cutting the city’s budget by 1.5 percent for fiscal year 2014, she said today.

The cut of almost $4 million in spending would bring the city budget down from $266.8 million to just under $263 million, if approved by Columbus Council, she said. She will make her formal budget presentation to councilors Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. in Council Chambers on the Plaza Level of the Government Center.

“It’s pretty austere, obviously,” Tomlinson said. “This will most definitely threaten our departments’ abilities to provide the level of service that our citizens have come to expect. It’s going to be a great challenge for them.”

The new budget assumes a 3 percent growth in the tax digest and decreases in Local Option Sales Tax revenues of 3.5 percent in the original LOST and 5.7 percent in the more recent “other” LOST.

It will require a 1.5 percent cut across the board from all city departments, except for public safety, she said. Tomlinson pointed out that her first budget as mayor, the fiscal 2012 budget, cut city department budgets by 2 percent. In 2013, the budgets were held flat, so the proposed cuts bring city department budgets down even farther than when she was elected.

One of the challenges facing the Tomlinson administration is providing new services, such as the new City Service Center, Aquatic Center, their parking garage, the Ice Rink and improvements proposed for the Civic Center, with essentially flat revenue.

“We have to do that on the same revenues we had eight years ago,” Tomlinson said, referring to an eight-year stretch of flat revenues. “The city is becoming bigger in a sense, more sophisticated in the quality of life that we’re providing for our citizens. And we’re having to do all of that with the same amount of revenues.”

In addition to the across the board cuts, the budget calls for deferring all capital expenditures until January 2014, freezing all non-essential unfilled positions and providing city employees with a half-percent cost of living increase. Retirees would get a quarter-percent.

The budget requires dipping into city reserve funds, but reserves would still be at 72 days worth of funding, comfortably above the 60-day threshold that could trigger a reduction in the city’s bond rating, she said.

At large Councilor Skip Henderson, who serves as chairman when council acts as the Budget Review Committee, said he has not seen the entire budget, but has seen some of the basic numbers.

“I know that we have some additional operational expenses coming online, with the natatorium and extra pressure on parks and recreation’s budget,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to hear from some of the department heads, particularly the elected officials, who I imagine will want to talk to us about the reductions and the needs they have.”

Councilors will hear from the mayor and city department heads at budget review committee meetings through May and June and must approve a budget before June 30, according to the city charter. The fiscal year runs from July 1-June 30.

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