City's budget season kicks off with formal presentation of $263M plan

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comApril 8, 2014 

Columbus Council meeting Tuesday December 3, 2013

JOE PAULL — jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com

The Columbus Consolidated Government formally presented a proposed $263.1 million budget for fiscal 2015 to Columbus Council today.

The budget expects revenues of $259 million and expenditures of $263 million, meaning the city will have to dip into reserves for about $4 million, city Finance Director Pam Hodge told councilors during the first Budget Review Committee meeting of the budget season.

At-large Councilor and Budget Review Chairman Skip Henderson said afterward there is “very little wiggle room” in city finances, so he expects council to pass a budget that is very similar to what Mayor Teresa Tomlinson presented. One thing that will be different from past budget processes is that council cannot fall back on budget reserves to avoid making tough cuts.

“In the past, when the money wasn’t there, council voted to take it out of the fund balance,” Henderson said. “That’s not going to happen this time. It’s a fiscal impossibility. We’re not going to be able to dip below the 60 days.”

Henderson said he was disappointed that the budget calls for a 1.5 percent across-the-board budget cuts from all city departments, which is an approach he does not prefer.

“We have said in the past that when times are hard, some of the tough decisions have to be made by the people who are the administrators of the organization,” Henderson said. “I don’t think you want to leave that to 10 part-time legislators to go in there and make cuts to different services.”

This is the fourth budget Tomlinson has presented to council and she said she is satisfied with the end product.

“I think we’ve made a good solid package for them to work with. Now they’ll just have to do the work they’re doing, which is peeling back and seeing what the options are,” Tomlinson said. “They’ll get to hear from the department heads and I think that will help them to see that it really is a solid budget. There’s gong to be a lot of decisions to be made.”

The budget calls for a .5 percent pay hike for all city employees, but for a change that could increase some employees’ health care costs.

The budget eliminates spousal coverage if the spouse has access to health insurance at his or her job. It also bases the city’s contribution to premiums on 70 percent of the cost of its Health and Wellness Center program’s premiums, which are lower than either the HMO or PPO options. This would raise premium costs to employees who opt for the HMO or PPO plans.

The budget would leave the city with 60.7 days of fund reserve, barely over the 60-day limit under which some bond rating companies might lower the city’s bond rating, which would increase the cost of bond issues to taxpayers.

Council will meet as the Budget Review Committee on April 15, 22 and 29, May 6, 13 and 20 to hear from different city departments. On May 27, it will hammer out its add-delete list. In June, council will hold first and second readings on the budget ordinance and then by law it must be passed before July 1, the first day of Fiscal 2015.

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