By JOY BROWN
Findlay government this year is expected to have its best financial health since the Great Recession exacted a heavy toll beginning in 2009.
With a $1.6 million general fund surplus, an expanded capital improvements budget, and noteworthy economic development activity anticipated, officials are painting the city’s picture with positive hues.
“I’m looking forward to being able to implement a proposed capital improvement plan, and we are anticipating significant economic development in 2014 from a lot of different angles, not necessarily just from the energy business,” said Mayor Lydia Mihalik, referring to Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s plan to expand its pipeline subsidiary and build it a new headquarters downtown.
Ironically, 2013, which was initially viewed by city officials with trepidation, provided the base for this year’s financial prosperity.
Last year “turned out a lot better than I thought it would…,” Mihalik said during a Republican-sponsored lunch last month.
It evidently turned out a lot better than others thought it would, too. Findlay Auditor Jim Staschiak in early 2013 was projecting a potential $6 million revenue drop with the expiration of Findlay’s three-year, quarter-percent income tax; no more Ohio estate tax; and a drop in state funding to local governments.
While the city lost millions in revenue when the income tax expired, more came in from elsewhere in the form of unexpected tax windfalls and money-saving operational changes.
Some money from the expired quarter-percent tax continued to come in during 2013, and Findlay’s income tax collections last year ended up totaling $2.9 million more than in 2012, the last full year the quarter-percent tax was collected. That was a 13.3 percent increase.
The administration said the numbers reflected a local economy that improved through the year.
Also, last year’s business tax collections totaled nearly $5 million more than in 2012. One particularly large deposit, $4.8 million, was made in October. By law, officials can’t say where it came from, but it presumably was from Marathon Petroleum.
Marathon’s economic powerhouse status is expected to continue in future years with more job creation and changes in the company’s downtown footprint.
Such business moves will mean more taxes for government, which will, in turn, translate to services that benefit city residents such as street repaving and safety equipment purchases.
Already, from its financial boost last year, the city is planning to spend nearly $4 million more on capital improvements than last year using city income tax money.
About $1.85 million will be spent on street maintenance and repaving this year, along with $738,400 in Ohio Department of Transportation money.
Multimillion-dollar projects such as waterline extensions and wastewater plant upgrades are also on the horizon. Improvements at Marathon Diamonds and Riverside Pool are proposed, too.
“Since 2012, we’ve more than doubled what we’re investing in our capital plan,” Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer said at a recent business breakfast.
Administrators also have asked City Council to approve $40,000 for consulting work aimed at traffic, curb and sidewalk projects to make Main Street and some of its crossover arteries more pedestrian-friendly. That would tie in with what Marathon wants to see for the interior and perimeter of its expanded campus.
For the city’s general fund, $25.3 million has been appropriated this year, about $400,000 more than last year’s projected spending.
Mihalik said the city’s health insurance costs went down by 25 percent last year, “and we have a reserve in excess of $3 million” thanks to changes to premiums and other health insurance matters.
Layoffs in various departments in 2012 and 2013 also helped save money.
The budget stabilization, and retirements of some higher-paid employees, are expected to allow for 11 hires this year, including in public safety.
Some of the $1.6 million general fund surplus will go toward increasing the city’s minimum reserve balance.
“What a difference a year makes,” Mihalik told council members at a December budget hearing. “We’re in a completely different scenario than we were a year ago, when we were preparing for the worst.”
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