Heights Council approves 2013-14 budget

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — By a 5-2 vote, the City Council approved the proposed 2013-14 budget at the council meeting May 28, but not without further discussions about the financial position of the city.

The budget proposed by Mayor Daniel Paletko assumes $39.1 million in expenditures and $40.7 million in revenues, creating a projected $1.5 million surplus for the city.

Coupled with the $2 million surplus expected for the current fiscal year the city will have dropped its deficit to just over $2 million by June 30, 2014. The city’s deficit was reported as nearly $5.5 million in 2012. Most of the deficit is taken up by the city’s sanitation levy, which is $2.1 million for next year.

Voting in approval of the budget were Councilors Tom Berry, Ned Apigian, Joseph Kosinski, Marge Horvath and Council President Kenneth Baron.

Councilwomen Janet Badalow and Lisa Hicks-Clayton voted against the budget.

One point contended by the council members was that the budget for next year has a jump from $37.2 to $ 39.1 million in expenditures.

Hicks-Clayton said the added expenditures played a large role in her voting against the budget.

“I’ve been battling with this since we started these budget discussions,” Hicks-Clayton said. “These issues plague our city’s progress toward financial stability. We need to have concerns about tomorrow, not just getting through this year.”

Badalow commended several government departments for their work reducing their budget or creating new avenues for revenue including the assessor, Human Resources director and Fire Department, but voted against the proposed budget.

“This is the fourth time in a row that I’ve voted against the budget,” Badalow said. “This budget has questionable revenues and increases in expenditures. This budget needs amending and it should be revisited.”

Apigian countered Hicks-Clayton and Badalow by asking where their proposed numbers for 2013-14 were.

“If you don’t like this budget, you should have proposed a number and then defended it,” Apigian said. “There are 23 categories in the budget with 15 or 20 lines each. That’s a few hundred lines and I haven’t heard anybody raise a question about more than five of them and they didn’t have a number for those five.”

Horvath said the increase in expenditures is due to costs associated with health care, unemployment, Act 345 and police overtime.

“These four items add up to a $925,000 increase,” Horvath said. “With the exception of police overtime, we have no control over them and we have discussed them at previous meetings.”

Act 345 deals with a special account for the pensions of police and fire workers that is outside of the general fund for the city.

Berry said that the budget isn’t perfect but that the council has been looking everywhere for ways to trim it down a little more.

“I don’t think that any of us are completely happy with this budget,” Berry said. “We’ve been reviewing this for two or three months to find all the spots where we could amend and make cuts. Unfortunately, there are uncontrollable expenses that we have no real control over.”

The new budget goes into effect on July 1.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)