Steubenville watches cash flow

STEUBENVILLE – Every Thursday morning Alyssa Kerker walks into the weekly city department staff meeting asking for cost-saving ideas.

It has become a weekly ritual for the Steubenville finance director as she and her staff review the latest cost analysis numbers on a daily basis.

The latest financial forecast, according to Kerker, shows the city ending 2013 with a $34,000 deficit.

“That is manageable and I am confident we can finish the year in the black. But I do have concerns about future years,” she said.

“I make recommendations to the city manager and the manager then makes the final decision. With a lot of action and some hard decisions we will survive. Our cost -flow analysis shows we are holding our own, but we will face bigger challenges in future years. We have a long road ahead of us,” Kerker said.

Kerker and Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci stressed the cash-flow balance reports they review daily and provide City Council members every month are just forecasts based on the latest numbers calculated in the finance office.

“The forecast can change on a daily basis based on the revenue we receive along with the bills coming in and when they are paid. As of this week we are projecting a $34,435 deficit for 2013. But that can all quickly change a week from now,” stated Mucci.

“I can tell you the finance office and the administration feel we can address the projected deficit with wise spending, cost-saving ideas and more efficient use of our resources. We can erase the projected deficit. But we also need to focus on 2014. We are currently projecting a $1.2 million deficit in 2014 and we need to address that as well,” Mucci said.

Mucci said how the city finishes 2013 financially and the issues looming in 2014 will depend on current and future contract negotiations with the three labor unions who represent city employees.

“We are currently negotiating with the Fraternal Order of Police Ohio Labor Council. The contract with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 228 expires in December so we will start talks with them later this year. We anticipate beginning negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2015 early next year. Any decision we reach with our unions will have a significant impact on our budget. There is no question about that,” explained Mucci.

“But we have no intention of balancing the city budget on the backs of our employees. They need to be part of the solution. There are a wide variety of ways to accomplish a balanced 2014 budget,” added Mucci.

“Our union members need to understand the issues the city is facing, and I believe they do. We are now seeing employees cross train to do other jobs. I recently looked out my office window and saw Brian Young and Jeff Daniels of the water department cutting the grass at the city building. If there had been a water line break, they would obviously be working on repairing the line. But they had the time to come here and lend a hand cutting grass. That is what we are striving for as our personnel resources are more limited. Our employees understand our situation and are willing to assist where they can,” Mucci related.

“It would be great to add personnel to every department. But that is not realistic at this point. We face challenges every day to meet the issues presented to us by our residents and our council members who make service requests on behalf of their constituents. We are meeting those challenges through the daily struggle of our department heads,” Mucci continued.

“Our city council members also need to participate in the budget process. Council is currently engaged in the search for a new city manager as well as a new city council clerk. But members are receiving and reviewing our cost-flow analysis reports and are staying informed about our contract negotiations as well as our financial issues,” Mucci said.

“Our 2013 projected deficit could have been a lot worse. We have been ordered by the state auditor’s office to pay $127,942 from the city’s general fund to the enterprise fund. We made a $49,947 final contractual payout to the former city manager. So we need to take all of that into consideration when we look at the projected 2013 deficit,” cited Mucci.

“Alyssa has made a budget presentation to the department heads and continues to ask for cost-saving ideas for the 2014 budget. The department heads have been participating in the process and coming up with different ideas. That is important as we approach 2014. I have told our department heads we have to continue providing services to our citizens, but we need to become more creative. I know we have become more efficient as we have seen personnel numbers reduced and we have changed how we provide our city services,” said Mucci.

“We were very successful this year collaborating with two nonprofit organizations who agreed to maintain and operate the Belleview Pool so we could keep the pool open this summer. We have collaborated with another organization to help keep the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center open this year. It would be hard to ask our residents for any type of increased taxes or fees to keep these recreational facilities open to the public. But the public has responded with offers of help and cooperation, and we were successful in keeping these two facilities open and operating,” touted Mucci.

“And we continue to monitor and assess the pros and cons of all options in our city,” he added.

“The good news in our financial picture is we are maintaining our income tax revenue. It may go up or down slightly, but we are maintaining a stable revenue. That is important. We are hurting financially because of the severe cut in our Local Government Funds. So now we are faced with making some hard decisions. Health care is obviously one of the main issues in our contract talks. Approximately 85 percent of the general fund is slated for employee wages and benefits. So as we work on our budget we have to consider the wages and benefits,” explained Mucci.

“We currently have five people sent to us from the Jefferson County Jobs and Family Services who are working for the city. And we have 12 summer youth workers provided by the Jefferson County Community Action Council. Those programs help us immeasurably. We continue to explore those type of programs for help in the future,” noted Mucci.

Mucci ackowledged the city has not seen the financial boom other communities have experienced from the growing oil and gas industry.

“I do think the oil and gas industry is helping us to hold our own. We have seen some economic opportunities, including the new Texas Roadhouse Restaurant, the new Microtel Hotel and H&H Screening and Graphics, Hess Energy locating in the city and Strauss Industries developing the former RG Steel Steubenville plant site. And I hope we will see more of an economic boom in the future. As I have said, selling bulk water to the oil and gas industry would be a major plus for the city,” stressed Mucci.

“We also have Franciscan University of Steubenville and Eastern Gateway Community College as well as a strong and growing health care industry in our city. And we have recently witnessed a commitment to tourism in our community through the Steubenville Visitors Visitors Center,” Mucci said.

“One thing about our city is we have faced challenges for more than 200 years. This is no different. We are up to the challenge. We have been through hard times before and we have pulled through. I have no doubt we will survive and pull through our current challenges,” declared Mucci.