City finance committee OKs temp budget

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2004

City leaders are taking the microscope to the 2005 budget.

As Mayor John Elam and his staff continue to study every dollar and cent for a proposed 2005 budget, the city's finance committee recommended a one-month temporary budget to allow everyone more time to crunch the numbers.

Some of that crunching will begin a little early. Though the temporary budget will appear on Thursday's agenda, Chairman Jim Tordiff called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss "the city's financial crisis" and how it affects services. The final revision for the 2004 budget also appears on the agenda that was postponed two weeks ago when council abruptly adjourned after a disagreement on procedure.

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Regardless of what comes from that, Council must have a temporary budget in place by Dec. 31. A full version must be in place by March 31.

"The one-month budget allows us to continue operations without interruption," said Finance Committee Chairman Brent Pyles. "It also puts the emphasis on us to decide what we are going to do."

By forcing everyone to hit the budget numbers quickly, any changes that will be made will be realized quickly before making it far into 2005, he said.

The temporary budget only includes expenses and is essentially the same as last year, said assistant finance director Nate Kline. However, several debt services and annual payments hit the city in January so the month's budget is not one-twelfth of the entire year.

In other business, Engineer Phil Biggs told the committee the stormwater utility fee plan is still being developed but that it is not going as well as hoped. In August, Council awarded authorizing EMH&T Inc. of Gahanna a $4,700 contract to develop the structure of the utility rate.

Biggs said that the company did not classify residential property as instructed and incorrectly calculated commercial property, meaning that much work remains. So far, the city has only paid the company less than $300 for services rendered, he said.

"We need to do some significant massage work with the fee they have put together," he said, adding that he is frustrated with the process. Still, he hopes for legislation next month that will spell out exactly what the plan could cost residents.

The fee, which has been projected to cost residents anywhere from a few dollars a month to more than $15, will primarily fund the Environmental Protection Agency's mandated Combined Sewer overflow plan that will determine the volume of pollutants that go into the Ohio River and how to minimize untreated discharges.

Developing the plan that has to be in place by December 2005 is projected to cost more than $860,000 based on a current proposal by E.L. Robinson Engineering. Actually implementing it could cost the city $20 million over the next 20 years or more.

Councilman Jesse Roberts shared Biggs' frustration.

"We have been four months and we have no more of an idea what we are going to charge on a CSO plan now that we did then," he said. Roberts added that everyone wants to make sure that they get it right now and don't have to come back to the residents later seeking more money.