NORTH ROYALTON – It’s only November, but City Council will soon discuss next year’s budget with an aggressive goal of approving it before Thanksgiving.

By law it’s not required to be in place until the end of March, but Council has made it a top priority these past few years to get it OK’d before New Year.

The first budget meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 14. If more discussion is required, it will be conducted during the Finance Committee meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 18. As always, these meetings are open to the public.

Much like this year’s, the 2014 budget is conservative but does tote a decent roads program, the hiring of two new police officer’s midyear, some vehicle purchases for city departments and earmarks to cover the potential rise in some expenses.

The budget projects revenues to be flat in 2014 and based on this year’s expected actual collections. Income tax collections from January through October this year were $11.37 million, and receipts are expected to total $13.64 million by the year’s end. The total amount that has been budgeted for 2014 is $13.63 million.

The biggest news is that the city will start the year on much firmer financial footing. Any increases that have come North Royalton’s way when income tax receipts significantly rebounded, were saved rather than doing more projects or purchases in an attempt to build the carryover. It’s paid off as the city is projected to start 2014 with a balance of more than $1 million. This does not count the $3 million that is tucked away in the future capital improvement fund.

Because the city will have a stronger, more solid financial base next year, be prepared to see more orange barrels. Any increases can now be used to do more infrastructure projects in the New Year.

“We are increasing the money for road construction in 2014. As we did this year, we will take a look at the numbers coming in this year up to May. Now that we have the healthy carryover, any additional revenue increases next year can be earmarked for road and infrastructure projects,” Mayor Bob Stefanik said.

Approximately $600,000 has been budgeted for the road program to start. At council’s Streets Committee meeting scheduled for Nov. 18, the street ranking system is to be revisited and a recommendation reached regarding the worst of the worst roadways to be tackled next year.

Vehicles will be another prime focus.

Close to $150,000 is being earmarked for vehicles or equipment in the service department, which has been playing catch up in this area.

“We’ll possibly use this for a new 1-ton dump truck and plow. We will be looking at this closer, but a final decision hasn’t been made yet,” Stefanik said.

Some $125,000 has been budgeted for vehicle purchases for the police department.

Five Ford Focuses will be bought under a state bid for about $16,000 each — a total of $80,000. Two will be used for waste water, two for building and one for fire. Money for waste water and the fire department’s cars come from those individual departments’ capital funds and not the general budget, Stefanik added.

He said these vehicles are a definite need.

“In the past, what we do is pass police cars down to various departments. But, we’re not buying as many cruisers as we used to. We’re keeping those vehicles longer, so there are fewer vehicles to hand down and what we’re passing down is in pretty bad shape because we are using those vehicles longer,” Stefanik said. “We’re buying these cars on state bid for less $16,000 each, and we fully expect these to last well over a decade.”

Two police patrolmen will be hired later in the year as a proactive measure in anticipation of more retirements in the future.

“Nobody told us they are retiring, we’re just preparing for that,” the mayor said.

At the firehouse, $12,500 has been set aside for two part-time employees to paint fire hydrants. Fire capital improvement dollars will be used to address the lighting at Station 1 and a bath and shower remodel in the amount of $70,000, as well as to purchase chest compression equipment and radios for an estimated $55,000.

Over at city hall, about $10,000 is being earmarked to redevelop the city’s Web site with the assistance of the county, and $6,000 is budgeted to purchase new notebook computers for city council.

Stefanik said a change in how the workers’ compensation premium is collected is expected to result in a double payment next year, so $175,000 has been put aside for that. Typically the payment for a given year is made in January of the following year, but changes dictate that the year’s payment now be paid in the same year.

For example, 2013’s payment will be made in January, but now 2014’s payment will be required next year also, resulting in the “double payment.”

Health insurance premiums are expected to increase by 10 percent so that, too, has been budgeted.

Council President Larry Antoskiewicz, who chairs finance, said he’s comfortable with the numbers.

“We’re anticipating a smooth budget process. I think we’ve done a good job. This year, we did a lot of storm water improvements, a lot of roads, and we still came in with a carryover of more than $1 million,” he said. “We’ll continue to do a good job and will continue to get things done in an improved and efficient manner.”

Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw said he is still reviewing the budget, but he likes what he sees so far.

“What I like is that council continues to streamline the city budget process by getting ready for the budget now. We have a better process than Congress,” he said.

Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck agreed and said the fact that the budget doesn’t have to be passed until March but will likely be approved this month is a testament to this administration and council’s responsibility and teamwork.

“It is the beginning of November, and we already have a budget from the city for council to review. We’re not going to try to bang this out in the last moment. We have our financial house in order and have a budget well in advance of the deadline,” he said. “You see how this council gets along, and this is a product of that. We don’t always agree, but we are responsible and mature enough to come together and get this done in a responsible manner.”

Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell said he is very optimistic about this budget, especially having a decent carryover, but said council will continue to be conservative moving forward.

“I’m pleased at how the receipts are coming in after the recession. We’re still going to be frugal with the budget but will still increase some things such as road projects and other things that we haven’t been able to the last few years,” Nickell said. “But, the receipts are up, we have a good carryover for a good bond rating. We’re on the rise.”

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