It’s hard not to be optimistic about Findlay’s 2014 finances, now that it appears the city has weathered the recession.
Only a year ago, administrators had to scramble to rework the city budget after skeptical voters rejected a proposed income tax as signs of economic recovery remained fuzzy.
Officials righted the boat, but not without pain.
Firefighters and some other city employees lost jobs. Department heads cut to save money, city employees picked up more of their health insurance tab, and the city’s employees’ unions took concessions.
Much credit is due to those who helped control spending, but the city’s 2013 finances would have still been upside down without several boosts this year.
• The $2.2 million the city learned was left over from 2012 in unspent money from department belt-tightening and from capital improvement projects that weren’t realized.
• A mid-year budget review that showed income tax withholding had skyrocketed between April and June, and was up by $1.1 million compared to June 2012, even though the quarter-percent income tax expired at the end of 2012.
• An October announcement that the city had received a $4.8 million business income-tax windfall. That boosted total income tax collections at the time to $21.7 million, $3.1 million more than the total for all of last year.
Certainly, no one should expect such good fortune every year.
But now, 2014 budget estimates are suggesting city government will be operating in the black with plenty of wiggle room.
According to Auditor Jim Staschiak, the general fund revenue for 2014 could exceed expenses by about $1.4 million. The year-end cash balance for the general fund next year is projected at nearly $9.5 million, including the 2014 revenue surplus and nearly $8.1 million in cash carried forward from this year.
The $9.5 million balance would be more than three times the amount of the city’s minimum general fund reserve, and would provide continued financial stability going into 2015.
That’s a striking turnaround considering the city, excluding year-end cash balances and reserves, had operating deficits during the recession.
The proposed budget, which will get a closer look during a hearing on Thursday, also reflects a 2 percent bump, to 17 percent, in the allocation of city income tax revenue to the capital improvement fund.
That would mean a much-needed boost for street repaving and other capital projects underfunded during the recession.
In addition, the city will continue to have $1 million in a rainy day fund.
Based on projections, the biggest challenge in 2014 may be for leaders to figure out the best way to allocate funds.
But the surplus shouldn’t cause officials to change course, and they should maintain a tight grip on purse strings. They should continue to assign funds to capital improvements, follow their strategic plan and restrain growing government.
Mayor Lydia Mihalik said in The Courier Saturday that the city’s disciplined approach for the past two years has the city government moving in the right direction.
That appears to be true. But it will take even more discipline now to stay on the right track.