City facing $34,000 deficit

STEUBENVILLE – City administration officials have projected a $34,000 deficit this year as City Council took a preliminary look Tuesday night at the proposed 2014 tax budget.

“The general fund and the water fund will finish this year in the red. But that deficit is manageable. The labor contract negotiations will have an effect on our 2013 budget. But we are really going to need to start focusing on 2014,” Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci said during a council finance committee meeting Tuesday.

Finance Committee Chairman and 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich said in May the city will face a $1,009,000 deficit in 2014 and a $2,183,000 deficit in 2015.

Mucci said the solution to the water fund will be to continue seeking bulk water customers from the oil and gas industry.

“Bulk sales are extremely important to stabilize the water fund. We need to be seeking new customers,” added Mucci.

Finance Director Alyssa Kerker also told council members the city has been ordered to pay $127,942 from the city’s general fund to the enterprise fund by the state auditor’s office.

Kerker declined to discuss details of the state audit until a final report is issued later this year.

“We did get a determination from the state and we have to pay that money back to the enterprise fund,” Kerker said.

Mucci said the tentative tax budget also includes five possible retirements in the city employee ranks.

“We aren’t sure at this point but we are projecting that as a possible number,” Mucci noted.

“This is not our final operating budget for 2014. This is the tax budget we are required to submit to the county by the end of July. This tax budget does set a tone for how we will operate in 2014,” Mucci said.

During the sunshine meeting Tuesday night, Lalich introduced legislation to hire RBC Inc. of Mansfield to collect delinquent water accounts.

According to Law Director S. Gary Repella, “it is in the best interests of the delinquent customers to make arrangements to pay their account before their bills are turned over to the collection agency. Once the collection agency starts the collection process they will be tacking an additional percentage fee on top of the delinquent bill the customers will be required to pay. The city will receive the full amount of the delinquent bill and RBC will be paid through the additional fees.”

Second Ward Councilman Rick Perkins proposed an ordinance accepting the new comprehensive plan.

The planning and zoning commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed comprehensive plan at 7 p.m. on Sept. 9.

Perkins also introduced legislation to adopt the one-year action plan for the 2013 Community Development Block Grant funds.

The city received $595,549 for the 2013 fiscal year, and the money will be used for several projects, including street improvements, clearance and demolition projects, code enforcement and fair housing activities.

In other business Tuesday night, Judy Bratten and Jerry Barilla presented the 2013 Steubenville Visitors Center report that noted $67,845 received from the city motel and hotel bed tax.

“We spent the money on wages, advertising and special events. We created our advertising in house and put more energy into promoting the city and tourism than we did promoting the fort. And we also tried to enhance events in the area. One of the first things we did was to set up an events committee with representatives from across the city. We took on responsibility for the annual Christmas parade. We worked to enhance the Dean Martin Festival to make it a very positive experience for Steubenville and visitors coming to Steubenville. And we have sent out more than 1,000 visitor packets,” cited Bratten.

“We have opened the visitors center to community events and continue to list all activities we are told about on our website calendar. We are constantly promoting Steubenville,” Bratten added.

Barilla said the murals fund has increased and he is interested in seeing a new mural portraying former Steubenville High School football greats Calvin Jones, Edward Vincent and Frank Gilliam.

Bratten said she and her staff have also oversaw the Downtown Farmers’ Market and coordinated advertising with Gateway Farmers’ Market as well as worked with city officials to develop a mobile phone application for visitors and residents. The visitors center shared the cost of the app with the city.

“We joined several tourism groups for joint marketing, participated in Department of Tourism Economic Impact report and developed ads that ran in Ohio Magazine, Pittsburgh Magazine, Times-Reporter Travel Ohio booklet, Progress Alliance magazine and the Northeast Ohio Map & Guide,” explained Bratten.

Council also heard from representatives of Horizon, a Chillicothe-based company that is running fiber optic lines through the city as part of the Connecting Appalachia project.

City Engineer Michael Dolak said he has been working with Horizon to limit traffic delays on Sunset Boulevard.

“I have told them they will have to delay the installation of the lines at the John Scott Highway and Mall Drive intersection until after our resurfacing work is completed,” Dolak said.