By Jane Ernsberger
Times-Junction News Editor
Members of Willard City Council have sat down with city manager Shawn Tappel and finance director Sue Johnson for the annual appropriations review. The final numbers will be approved by council.
“It gets changed frequently,” Johnson said of the budget for the city. “It’s over an adjustment of carryovers or things missed.”
As the numbers get filled in, Johnson said the General Fund will look good. This, she noted, is due to tax revenues.
“Last year was a bang up year with taxes,” she said. “We are still seeing higher taxes coming in this year. It sits in the Income Tax Fund until Jan. 16 when it can be dispersed.”
In order to save more in the General Fund, Johnson said the assistant finance director will be paid from a combination of accounts. Along with the General Fund, that position will be paid with 40-percent coming from water and 25-percent from sewer.
“Those funds are healthy enough to absorb some of those costs,” she pointed out.
The position itself is contentious for the present time between Johnson and members of council. Josh Gerber, president of Willard City Council, said no decision has been made to appoint someone to that position.
Johnson pointed out that, prior to the time when she was promoted to her present position as finance director, there was an assistant. For the last two years, she told council members, she has been doing both jobs.
“There’s a lot more I could be doing as finance director if I had an assistant,” Johnson noted.
“I just don’t know where all this money is coming from,” Gerber said.
Council member Ricky Branham said for the last two budgets, council members heard nothing but “doom and gloom.”
“Now,” Branham said, “we are going to hire for three positions.”
Johnson explained that part of the problem in the past was that the money was there. It was simply not allocated.
Tappel said he felt things will stay the way they are at the present time.
“At least, for the most part,” he pointed out. “We’re doing very well as a city.”
Gerber questioned if taking the money to help pay for an assistant finance director was going to leave the water fund short.
A contract with Northern Ohio Rural Water will boost that fund, according to Johnson.
The city will be hiring a new police dispatcher in the near future. According to the planned appropriations, the new dispatcher will be paid from the Police Income Tax Fund.
“There’s a very large carryover in the Police Income Tax Fund we will use for a dispatcher,” Johnson explained. “This frees up money in the General Fund to help for the assistant finance director and a full-time firefighter. The 211 (Police Income Tax) Fund has plenty of carryover from prior years to pay for a dispatcher until the levy expires at the end of 2018. When we go back to the voters, we may want to consider asking for an increase to 1/4% for the police department, which would greatly help the General Fund.”
“I don’t think the fund was designed for a dispatcher,” Branham pointed out.
Council member Joe Daniel said his understanding was the Police Income Tax Levy was supposed to be used for a detective, juvenile officer and school resource officer.
Johnson said the second time the levy went before voters, if passed, the use was different.
“The way the ordinance reads is ‘extra personnel,’” noted Johnson. “It would go to the voters in 2017. We would still have some left in the carryover. We can move officers in and out of that fund.”
“I’m okay with a dispatcher coming out of that fund,” Branham pointed out. “I wanted to make sure we didn’t sacrifice our officers with this.”
Gerber said he was also concerned the staffing level for officers be maintained.
Johnson said the city is facing a $1 million carryover, the same as the beginning of last year. In the past, the carryover was estimated at between $300,000 and $500,000 instead of the $1 million available. She called this “overly cautious.”
“If you’ve got $1 million to spend,” she pointed out, “why cut yourselves short?”
The meter reader position is being moved from the finance department back to the maintenance department, according to Johnson. The job has been moved numerous times over the past 30 years.
“It makes more sense to put it back into the maintenance department,” she told council members. “This means he will still be paid from the General Fund, but more of his wages will be allocated to various funds to free up more money in the General Fund.”
One area the city is not doing well in is the Recreation Fund, she noted. The city is having to put more money into the fund with a much larger transfer from income tax.
“The problem is we are not seeing the money come in from the festival and the pool,” Johnson explained. “The reservations are steady.
“I would highly recommend when that levy comes up for renewal,” she added, “we ask for an additional .5-mil. The levy was passed in 2014 and is for tax years 2015 to 2019, meaning we collect it 2026 to 2020. It is a .5-mil that brings in roughly $40,000 annually.”
In another move within appropriations, Johnson said she is closing the Duck Blind Fund. She said she has created a revenue line item for duck blind deposits in the Water Fund, and refunds will come from the Reservoir fund.
“It brings in so little money,” Johnson noted, “that I don’t think a separate fund needs to be open. That’s going away.
“I am also transferring $6,602.39 from the Bid Bond Fund into the General Fund,” she added. “I am treating this as an unclaimed fund. This dollar figure has been sitting on the books for more than 10 years and cannot be traced to any company or individual.”
Johnson pointed out that unclaimed funds which are on the city’s books for over five years. can go into the General Fund.
“I have no way of knowing who to refund it to,” she added. “That will help the General Fund a little bit.”
Johnson said the city has completely depleted two inactive capital funds this year. They include the Hospital Capital Improvement and Midwest Drive Capital Improvement.
“We had talked about those funds last year,” she said. “I had gotten an opinion from our auditors who agreed that the money could be spent on capital purchases since those two funds were originally intended to be spent on capital.
“Another inactive fund I need to find out more about is the UDBG fund,” Johnson added. “It is similar to the CDBG fund in that it is a grant fund, one is Urban, one is community.
“I have not been able to find anything online about UDBG funds,” she noted. “So, apparently it is no longer in existence. I am hoping to use these funds to possibly take care of some blighted areas of town by tearing down houses. There is currently $36,652 in that fund. It will be appropriated to be spent.”
Johnson said her latest revision includes some better carryover amounts. As the end of the year comes closer, it is easier to calculate those carryovers.
“I’m not being quite as conservative as our previous administration,” she said. “If there’s $1 million in carryover, I am going to put $1 million in the budget.”