City financial woes front and center

EAST LIVERPOOL–A week after East Liverpool voters rejected a temporary income tax increase, City Council’s finance committee is wrestling with ways to improve the city’s financial outlook.

On Tuesday, City Auditor Marilyn Bosco presented a draft financial plan to the three-member committee that outlines ways to increase operating revenue and reduce expenditures.

“This is extremely generic–just something to build upon,” she said.

The financial plan was one of the things called for by the state’s audit of the city’s books for 2015.

“The main objective of the financial plan is to eliminate all fiscal emergency conditions which were determined by the Auditor of State,” the plan prologue states. “The plan identifies the actions to be taken by the city to restore the fiscal integrity of the city. It also serves as a master plan by which all future appropriations measures must comply and directs the correction of issues essential to financial recovery.”

The finance committee voted to forward the draft plan to the full council for input. Committee Chairman Bill Hogue said the goal is to have the plan in place by the end of the year.

“Obviously, there’s not a magic bullet that will save us from economic disaster–except for careful financial management,” Hogue said.

Bosco’s plan includes a schedule for the budget process that would start no later than Sept. 1 and conclude by the end of the year. It identifies the collection of delinquent incomes taxes as one way to generate revenue.

Hogue noted that the Central Collection Agency, which helps the city with income tax collection, recently was able to add 800 names to the income tax rolls–people who previously had not filed an income tax return with the city.

But the best way to grow the city’s coffers, he said, is by making it a more desirable place to live, pursuing economic development projects and attracting more residents. He said the New Castle School of Trades and the Market Street Lofts project are a good start.

“While all of this is positive, I don’t want to paint a rosy picture,” he said. “Nevertheless, it’s not all horrible news. There are some things on the horizon that suggest we might be able to squeak through next year if things break our way.”

Bosco’s plan also identifies a number of ways to cut costs, including reducing health care costs, reducing overtime, reducing staff by attrition, replacing full-time staff with part-time staff, and selling, leasing or trading nonessential city assets.

While Bosco hopes to have a temporary budget in place by the end of the year, the city faces a possible deficit and cuts to services.

On the subject of overtime, the committee learned that three supervisors in the city health department, water department and street department will qualify for overtime pay when a new federal regulation takes effect on Dec. 1.

The Fair Labor Standards Act Overtime Exemption was recently increased so that the salary cap for overtime is now $47,476. That means supervisors who make less than that amount must be paid overtime if they ask for it, Bosco said.

“If these employees say they want overtime, we have to give it to them,” she said, noting that previously, they accumulated compensatory time.

Also Tuesday, the committee forwarded to the full council a new depository agreement with Farmer’s National Bank, the city’s bank. The agreement is renewed every year and is good from Dec. 1, 2016, to Nov. 30, 2017.