Smooth sailing

Construction zones have been hard to avoid in Findlay this year, but no one is complaining about the smooth roads that follow.
Infrastructure needs are being addressed again throughout the city, a tangible sign the economy actually has taken a right turn.
The upward trend, we’re learning now through the city’s midyear budget review, should continue at least into next year. That’s something no one should take for granted.
While only an estimate, officials predict a $9.6 general fund balance to start 2015. More than half of that, $5.2 million, will be in cash, the remainder in the city’s mandated reserve.
That’s far more than the city has had since the recession began in 2008.
The sizeable cash balance creates opportunities that many cities don’t have, but also means officials must establish priorities and separate the needs from the wants.
The city, despite its good fortune, shouldn’t rush to spend just because the bank account is full.
The forecasted surplus is due primarily to another anticipated income tax collection spike and from the $2 million that various city departments won’t spend and will return.
Such revenue streams will not necessarily repeat every year.
The better course, which has been suggested by Auditor Jim Staschiak, is to manage city assets around a five-year capital plan and an operational budget that provides a rough outline of priorities for two years instead of just one.
Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer favors increasing the amount allotted to the capital improvements fund, which is also a good idea.
That fund will grow next year to 18 percent of income tax collections, from 17 percent. Schmelzer believes it could rise to as much as 25 or 30 percent over the next decade.
While that may prove to be too optimistic if income tax collections drop off, we like the thought, considering the long list of capital expenses and infrastructure projects still on the to-do list.
Another positive is that the philosophical differences regarding finances between some city administrators and Staschiak seem be less significant now that the cash flow has improved, and there is a willingness to work together to develop the two-year operations budget.
We hope the level of cooperation and communication on the Municipal Building’s third floor continues.
As far as the budget goes, officials would be wise to pause and explore with City Council the right way to proceed, as opposed to reacting impulsively.
There is time to do that before working through the 2015 budget this fall. Even though it seems the city has hit the lottery, officials and the council need to make sure to invest the winnings prudently.

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