By DENISE GRANT
Barring the unexpected, the City of Findlay will finish 2017 with solid finances.
City Council held a pre-budget hearing on Tuesday as it gets ready to work through the lengthy budget process by the end of the year.
City Auditor Jim Staschiak said large, year-end projected cash balances in both the city’s water fund and sewer fund give council “an opportunity for a rate reduction or significantly expanded, fully planned and executed capital program.”
Staschiak said the infrastructure of the city’s water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer systems should be completely studied and a five-year improvement plan should be developed. He said the city’s water and sewer “model” has not been updated for more than two years.
The city’s water fund is expected to end the year with a balance of $9.1 million, which is more than a year’s worth of operating expenses. It will cost about $6.6 million to operate the system this year.
Operation of the sewer system will cost about $7.5 million this year. The sewer fund is expected to finish the year with a balance of $6.6 million.
City operating expenses had been expected to outpace revenue by about $1.2 million this year.
However, the city’s carryover balance at the end of the year may actually increase slightly over the 2016 carryover, which was $12.4 million.
Findlay’s operating budget for this year is about $27.6 million.
Council agreed to continue dedicating 20 percent of the city’s income tax revenue to capital improvements next year.
The city set aside about $10.5 million for capital improvements this year, including about $4.4 million in projects and cash carried forward from previous years, plus $4.6 million from city income tax revenue. Council also transferred an additional $1.5 million, part of the city’s cash balance, to capital spending.
In all, the city’s capital plan totaled about $33.6 million this year, including grants and state and federal dollars earmarked for specific projects.
Staschiak said the city’s good finances could allow for more money to be dedicated to improvements, but Mayor Lydia Mihalik cautioned council against increasing the amount.
Mihalik said the city’s business tax revenues remain unstable. She said more money could be moved into capital improvements if the budget allows.
She also said staffing concerns, including union negotiations in 2018, will mean higher expenses for the city next year. Staschiak said an increase of 2 percent will be built into the city’s budget for wages.
Staschiak was more optimistic about the numbers. He said business tax receipts are traditionally unpredictable, but have leveled out from the recession years of 2008 through 2012.
City Council will hold department budget hearings over two days in December. The hearings will be held Dec. 13-14, beginning at 5 p.m. in the third-floor conference room of the Findlay Municipal Building, 318 Dorney Plaza.
Stashiak’s complete pre-budget hearing report can be viewed online at www.findlayohio.com/government/elected-officials/city-auditor/