NORTH ROYALTON – After two lengthy discussions, city councilmen say they feel comfortable with the 2015 budget and its expected passage at the first December meeting.

This budget, hailed as a “solid, very conservative, no frills” approach, doesn’t include any major expenditures outside a few vehicle purchases and two new patrolmen at the police station, some minor repairs, and equipment at the fire stations and the roads program. It was discussed Nov. 10 at a special finance committee meeting and again Nov. 18 at council’s regular finance meeting it expected to pass at the Dec. 2 meeting without incident after The North Royalton Post Newspaper deadline.

There were a few things council had questions on and debated back and forth a bit, but those have all been resolved.

The first was that in order to preserve the city’s $1 million carryover in the general fund, council members were trying to decide whether or not to divert $200,000 or just $100,000 of cable franchise fees the city collects from cable providers to the general fund temporarily as a cushion if need be to offset state cuts or any shortfalls. This $200,000 generally feeds the city’s future capital improvement fund, or rainy day fund, though no capital projects are on the radar with the relocation of city hall complete.

Ward 5 Councilman Steve Muller was only comfortable with $100,000 of that fund’s revenue stream being used, Mayor Bob Stefanik too. Eventually, several other councilmen felt the same way. An unexpected savings occurred last minute. The city had budgeted $3 million in health insurance costs, a 10 percent increase over last year, in this budget. However, officials learned Nov. 18 that it would only increase by 4.7 percent, saving $142,000. This savings will be used to offset any cuts or shortfalls, along with just the $100,000 Muller suggested moving, allowing the future capital improvement fund to continue to grow by $100,000.

Stefanik said the city has been fortunate at keeping health care costs down. Some cities’ coverage increased by as much as 10-15 percent.

“We are fortunate that our employees have taken their health care situation seriously. We’ve had a wellness program they have been utilizing. We’ve been insisting on using more generic drugs where available in an effort to keep health care costs down,” he said.

Another item councilmen noticed when reviewing the budget is that the police department expenses had increased substantially, approximately $381,000, from years past. This was attributed to four new hires budgeted in 2014 to replace retiring officers, however, only two ended up being hired then. The numbers were further skewed because the two who weren’t hired last year are being hired this year, and the officers they are replacing are still on the payroll because they have not yet retired.

“We have to show the full salary for the two new hires and the ones we are assuming are retiring,” Stefanik explained.

With these items resolved, city officials say the 2015 budget is solid.

State cuts to municipal funding have cities, North Royalton included, hard hit with a cumulative loss of almost $3.8 million in the past four years.

To make up that difference and maintain the city’s $1 million carryover, Royalton has been holding tight to any upticks in revenue and looking for ways to stretch its dollars and cut expenditures any way it can. Officials say this approach has paid off, as evidenced by the healthy carryover.

“We are financially solid. We’re looking at a $1 million carryover plus the $2.5 million in future capital improvement fund. We always budget assuming the worst case scenarios. You can’t unspend what you’ve already spent,” Stefanik said. “It’s much easier to budget conservatively at the beginning of the year than trying to cut in areas where money has already been spent later in the year.”

Muller agrees.

“The budget does look like a solid budget again this year. As long as things continue to go well, economically, I think things should be fine here in the city too. And, it’s a budget we go back to and review throughout the year, so if anything should change, we can go back and look through items and make changes if need be,” he said.

Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell said the city’s in pretty good shape.

“Things are pretty much status quo. We’re looking at expenses and keeping spending tight as always,” he said.

The budget is fiscally conservative and similar to last year’s, Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw said, but he said if he could be granted one Christmas wish it would be for the state to reinvest in its communities.

“It would be for the state of Ohio to invest more in cities like ours, whether it be increasing local government funding or more funding to fix roads and aging infrastructure,” he said. “Our city experiencing about $3.8 million dollars in state funding cuts since 2011 is a tough lump of coal to take this time of the year.”

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