Approximately $1.3 million in cuts were made to the City of Athens’ budget for the 2018 fiscal year.
A decrease in projected revenue for the 2018 fiscal year forced Athens City Auditor Kathy Hecht, the Finance and Personnel Committee, headed by Athens City Council member Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, and the Office of the Mayor to find ways to amend the budget. Finding cuts in the budget proved to be difficult after state cuts stripped funding from the city’s projected revenues for 2018.
“Although we have the income tax increase, our tax revenue is basically flat,” Hecht said in an email. “Cuts by the state have reduced our available revenue.”
From 2006 to 2016, Athens lost $576,885 in local government funds, according to a previous Post report.
“In 2017, counties, municipalities and townships will be working with $1.176 billion less than in 2010, adjusted for inflation, as a result of changes in state policy, although needs in many communities remain higher than before the recession,” a report by Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, stated.
In that previous Post report, Risner said the state did not attempt to replace funding after the tax cuts. Those cuts made the budget process difficult because it stripped available revenue from the city, Hecht said.
The budget process begins with each department in the city submitting its own individual, itemized budget. From there, the Finance and Personnel Committee, the mayor and the auditor review the projected revenues for that fiscal year and prioritize what is crucial in running the city to make the budget fit within the city’s projected revenues for that year. When the budget does not fit within the city’s projected revenues for that upcoming year, cuts have to be made to the proposed budgets of each department.
Although the overall 2018 city budget is larger than the 2017 fiscal year’s budget by about $2.7 million, cuts were made to each department’s proposed budgets this year to make up for the loss of revenue from the state.
“We begin to look at our projected revenues, or how much money the city will bring in through income tax and other fees,” Risner said. “We then have to decide what we want versus what we really need.”
Crucial items for the city get first priority, Risner said. Mandatory expenses such as payroll, health insurance and adding to the state retirement fund are prioritized over projects that can be delayed for another year. Critical departments such as police and fire having the necessary equipment and everyday spending on items like office supplies are taken into account in the budget as well.
Certain departments such as fire, code, lands and buildings, cemetery and other administrations had smaller budgets than last year, according to the 2017 and 2018 budgets. All other departments’ budgets grew to cover an increase in cost of operation of those departments, Hecht said.
“Mostly, we will be cutting back on capital expenses,” Hecht said in an email. “This includes vehicle and equipment purchases and land and building improvements that can be put off until the next year.”
Capital expenses such as non-crucial street improvements will be postponed. Additionally, no new positions in the City of Athens will be added in 2018, Hecht said.
“We have minimal cost of living pay raises to cover, so we don’t really have anything extra for new projects or additional personnel,” Hecht said in email. “The amount left for discretionary expenses has to be prioritized and some things fell off the list.”
Despite the revenue decreases, no one department was favored over another, Risner said.
“Across the board, everybody is affected equally,” Risner said. “No one department was cut more than any other.”
Correction: A previous version of this report misstated which committee Jeff Risner leads. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.