Taking it line by line

Ward 2 Councilman Gary Petrusky, finance committee’s vice chair; Council President Larry Antoskiewicz, finance’s chair; and Ward 5 Councilman Steve Muller, along with the rest of council, work through the budget’s main highlights and ask any questions at a special public meeting Nov. 14 prior to the passage Nov. 19.

NORTH ROYALTON – When council approved the 2014 budget, history was made. Not only was it passed unanimously, but it was the earliest the city’s budget has ever been agreed upon and adopted.

Per city charter, council had until March 31 to adopt the budget.

This City Council, however, has made an aggressive effort to pass the last few budgets before the New Year, something that Ward 2 Councilman Gary Petrusky, when he was finance committee chairman, and Council President Larry Antoskiewicz, current finance chairman, especially, have pushed for.

This one passed in November, a record.

“We have done a lot of hard work to actually put the budget into effect prior to the New Year. Before these past two budgets, it was going into effect the last month of the new quarter of the year. Passing it a month before the New Year allows the department heads to plan their budgets more efficiently,” Petrusky, vice chair of finance, said. “I am very happy with that.”

Antoskiewicz said it’s a testament to the choices the city has made in trying to right the ship after the stormy economic waters wreaked havoc on city coffers.

“Everything is working well now, and it shows with how quickly we were able to get the budget done. We’re not getting it done so quickly to try and push stuff through, but because everything is running so well. We’re more efficient at what we’re doing,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll continue to do what we have always done, monitor finances throughout the year. If numbers continue to grow, we may look to add on some additional projects.”

Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck said he’s happy it was passed by Jan. 1. Passing it before Thanksgiving is gravy.

“What the federal government can’t seem to figure out, the seven of us have done,” he said.

This city is projecting to start 2014 off with a bang – well over a $1 million carryover from this year, and that’s despite cuts that have been made to prep for the loss of revenue from state funding and the loss of the estate tax.

Like Antoskiewicz, Marnecheck said the city is finally starting to see the fruits of the tough decisions made in 2010 and 2011.

“Getting rid of garbage pick up and freeing up service workers; not hiring more police, keeping the complement tight. We have a police chief who, through innovation, has allowed us to keep the city just as safe with fewer police officers. We have fewer people working for the city. It costs less money to run the city. What option did have when the state was taking money out of our pockets?” Marnecheck said.

Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell agreed.

“I am very pleased that revenues are up and we’re able to maintain services for the residents. And, we’re increasing some of the street funding to get more street repair done. It’s nice to have funds to be able to spend and not cut back or lay off,” he said.

The budget, which everyone describes as relatively conservative and reasonable, primarily includes a roads program of $600,000; the hiring of two police officers midyear; five Ford Focus cars for $80,000 total; $125,000 in police cruisers; $150,000 for equipment and vehicles at the service department, possibly a dump truck/snow plow; $12,500 to hire part-time help to repaint fire hydrants; and $6,000 earmarked for new computer notebooks for council.

Council hosted a special budget meeting Nov. 14 to discuss each item in detail.

Aside from these purchases, the city was budgeting for an increase of about 10 percent in health care costs. But, the health care plan was negotiated for next year, and included an actual increase of just 4.7 percent, saving the city $125,000.

“We budgeted 10 percent because of what we were hearing what other communities were coming back as,” Mayor Bob Stefanik said. “Because of the Affordable Care Act, it went up about 4.5 percent, so if it wasn’t for that, we’d be close to flat from last year. We’ve been working with city employees to keep health care costs down, doing health assessments. So we’ll carry that $125,000 into next year.”

Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris asked at the meeting what the police complement will be after hiring the two officers next year.

“Right where we want it to be,” Stefanik said at the meeting. “Don’t go by what we used to have because we were overstaffed. The new police chief has done a good job assigning people smartly, getting people out from behind desks and out onto the road.”

As for the Ford Focus vehicles, the mayor told council the city is trying to be smart too when purchasing vehicles. Of the five cars, two are will be used for waste water, two for building and one for fire.

“We’re trying to spend money wisely by getting fuel efficient cars, and not the Crown Vics (Victorias) of the past,” he said.

There is still money left in 2013 earmarked for two pick-up trucks for service. One of the old trucks will be transferred to the parks and rec department. Service will also receive $150,000 earmarked for equipment and a plow next year. The city will determine how to spend that after the winter.

The main pride and joy is the roads program. Last year close to $450,000 was spent on roads. This year $600,000 will be spent at minimum. A list of roads has yet to be announced.

Despite it being a pretty straightforward, no frills budget, council members review the document with fine-toothed combs line by line.

For instance, Ward 5 Councilman Steve Muller noticed the electricity budget for city hall had increased significantly, moving from $15,000 in 2013 to $51,000 in 2014.

“It seems to be a substantial change, but it is because we will be operating both this city hall and the new city hall,” Muller explained. “Makes sense.”

Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw, member of the finance committee, said he was more than satisfied with the budget.

“Our city has a good budget process in place, and it is a testament to the hard work of the administration and council to get the budget done before the start of the New Year,” he said. “Our council has set a good example on how a budget process should be conducted and maybe even Congress can learn a thing or two from how well we collaboratively worked to pass a budget and ensure we meet our obligations to the residents we are elected to serve.”

Stefanik said the city now stands on sound financial footing, and it might be tempting to spend, but he said the city will continue to remain vigilant with the taxpayer dollars.

“We understand the economy has peaks and valleys. It’s easy to govern when the economy is on the upswing, but we have to be very aware that these things don’t last forever. At some point we will experience downturns in revenue, and we have to be prepared for that. And we are.”

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