Budget woes far from over

“If you thought 2014 was tough, wait until you look around the corner”
Andy Ouriel
Mar 12, 2014
The financial pinch Sandusky officials just faced seems small compared to an economic catastrophe headed their way.

“If you thought 2014 was tough, wait until you look around the corner,” Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. said.   Projections on the city’s budget, funding day-to-day services, show Sandusky generating about a $1 million shortfall over the next two years.

The city’s revenues remain flat, hovering at about $16.2 million, in 2015 and 2016.

But costs continue to spike over this period, with estimated expenses totaling about $16.7 million in 2015 and $16.9 million in 2016.

The cause of the surge: rising health insurance costs, unionmandated raises for police officers and firefighters and other expenses.

City commissioners seemed defeated when analyzing the figures. In February, they completed a process in which they slashed $1.1 million in services to balance the budget.

The cuts forced officials to reduce many services, including:

•Eliminating four full-time firefighter positions.

•Closing the Venice Road fire station for six months, beginning in May.

•Axing various recreation programs.

Municipal governments such as Sandusky must have a balanced budget by March of each year. Up to 80 percent of Sandusky’s everyday operating budget covers salaries.

To offset the budget — and to avoid other financial shortfalls in upcoming years — commissioners must consider further downsizing staffing levels.

Layoffs are a common practice in Sandusky.

Case in point: The city’s full-time staffing levels have plummeted, from 291 in 2004 to 212 as of this past December.

“We can’t wait eight months to start discussing the next budget,” commissioner Dick Brady said. “We need to start discussing it today. There are only so many things you can cut. We’ve done the hard things. We’ve cut expenses. Now we need to find ways to generate more revenue”

At a recent public meeting, commissioners discussed possible ways to generate more money in hopes of offsetting the projected increase in expenses.

Many voiced support for a levy if, and only if, commissioners specifically dedicate these funds toward a certain purpose.

“The projections look grim,” commissioner Scott Schell said. “But I have talked with people throughout the community, and we agree that if (commissioners) can be specific and identify what we are going to attack, whether it’s safety services or to fix streets, then I think, by in large, people would support that”

If officials do proceed with a levy, they must be clear in their overall campaign message, commissioner Naomi Twine said.

“Starting these conversations with the public is very important,” Twine said. “The feedback that I am getting is that we need to share information to receive information back from the public”

If layoffs occur, they’d surely hit fire and police operations the hardest. The two departments today eat up about $10 million of the city’s $16.3 million operating budget.

“If we don’t make a move and get some revenue into the city, then we are going to have to make layoffs in both the police and fire departments next year,” commissioner Julie Farrar said. “I don’t see this going anywhere good unless we make some sort of move, go to the community and ask for help”

Some residents at the meeting offered their support for a levy.

“I really believe the city has made as many cuts as possible,” 42nd Street resident Timothy Work said.

Said Third Street resident Mark Norman: “If you could give us a vision that we could believe in that would carry us forward, that will make a huge difference for this community. Marketing comes down to education”

Comments

Bogtrotter

Last time I went to the Sandusky Mall, I paid sales taxes. As far as I know, the mall isn't planning on moving to a state without sales taxes. Nor is it shutting down. I suppose, in theory, the mall probably has fewer customers than it would if it didn't collect sales taxes. Does that mean that the sales tax should be repealed?

If you want to ride roller coasters in northern Ohio, you have to go to Cedar Point. Are people who pay $120 for a season's ticket, going to say, "Screw it. I can pay Cedar Fair $120 for a ticket, plus $5 for every Coke I drink and $10 for every hamburger that I eat. But if Sandusky is going to get $8 out of this deal, no way am I going to Cedar Point"? Maybe, if they are anti-tax zealots.

Long term, if Cedar Point has 5,000 fewer customers per year because of an 8% admissions tax, the city is going to make out like a bandit. Will that mean less money spent in Perkins? Tragically, yes. But the handful of Tea Party supporters who stay away because they refuse to pay an admissions tax is not going to hurt Sandusky to an extent that would justify foregoing $4 million per year in additional tax revenue.

So, long term, I would expect the city to have a lot more money on hand to fix roads, maintain parks, fight fires, and break up fights outside of Daly's. With more money, they may even be able to police downtown so that the fights don't happen in the first place.

doglegright

So in your mind, ONLY Tea Party supporters will stay away because of higher admission taxes? Hmmmmm...

Fireside

Can just ONE of you pro-tax babblers please tell me ONE thing the commission did in the last two years to warrant me giving them more tax money? Can ONE firefighter or police officer tell me ONE thing they do different now than they have in the past to be more efficient? Hours of work, 8 hour shift, contract out services, number per shift etc. etc... Can someone please tell me how many employees actually live IN Sandusky? Can someone please tell me how we came to closing the west side station before the east side? What criteria was used? Was this decided to help the locals or hurt them? That decision alone defies logic. Please explain. Whew, thanks for letting me vent!

Bogtrotter

W

doglegright

What "extra" services will we get? All the extra $$$ will do is go to salaries of existing public employees?

Better parks? come one.....good one.

Fireside

Thanks for agreeing. All the tax increase will do is pay wages. I am all for the better wages negotiated but come on, don't promise better this, better that. In two more years we will need another tax increase to pay wages. As I have said before (and I do not like the phrase)we need to find a better way, so that we are just not raising taxes to "feed the pig". Thanks again.

Bogtrotter

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T. A. Schwanger

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Fact:

When a parking tax was implemented a few years back, Cedar Fair upped the price of parking. At the next City Commission election, the new commission voted to terminate the parking tax--Cedar Fair did not lower the parking charge.

Throughout history, when discussion of an Amusement Admission Tax surfaces, Cedar Fair has lowered the cost of admission to show the City how much revenue it will lose or threatens to move corporate offices or threatens legal action.

Bogtrotter

W?

T. A. Schwanger

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@Bogtrotter

Absolutely I'm in favor of increasing the Amusement Admissions Tax, if an increase of any tax is necessary.

The comments above were meant to show the tactics Cedar Fair uses to browbeat elected officials into not increasing the admissions tax. Google "Mason, Ohio Admissions Tax" and see how Cedar Fair treated that community regarding an admissions tax.

Even if the City Commission decides to increase the admissions tax, look for the percentage to be a token amount--last time around (2009), the City and Cedar Fair made a hand shake agreement to increase the admissions tax to 3.25% ONLY if the ballot income tax increase to 1.50% was approved by voters.

Think about this. The City Commission, City Manager and City Finance Committee has decided "the yearly carryover balance must be 25% of the operating budget($4 million in 2014)" In 2008 , the carryover balance was 16% of the operating budget. We didn't go into bankruptcy in 2008. So, is the City really in "financial crisis"?

Bogtrotter

T

Fireside

Please read the article on Perkins new hires.

donutsh0pguy

Please consider NOT to put people on anymore committees in this city who were part of the reason the city is in this so called crisis.

Let them go back to serving ice cream so the only thing they can screw up is an order and not a city.

Fireside

Sorry, must have struck a nerve!

DGMutley

The reference Tim Schwanger made to Mason, Oh and Cedar Point's opposition to an increase in admission tax is noteworthy. Thanks Tim! I'll check it out.

A .025 % increase in the admission tax is laughable. It equals an increase of $23,000 on 2013's admission tax.

DGMutley

The increase should read a .25% increase will equate to $230,000 or $233,000 to be exact on the 2013 admission tax which was $2.8 million. The total admissions being taxed would have been $93.3 million.

Babo

Where is the City Manager on the issue of raising the Admissions Tax? She would have the power to get the topic on the agenda for discussion. One would think if a group of residents told her there is large support for the Admissions Tax she would introduce the matter.

She should couple increasing the Admissions Tax to 8% with a decrease in the income tax to 0.5% or even zero if the fiscal analysis supports the decrease. A decrease in the income tax would generate voter support and be attractive to new businesses and new residents.

By doing so she could start to reclaim power that Murray usurped through his micromanaging. She could also expose his conflict of interest during public discussion on the issue by asking him if his failure to even consider an Admissions Tax increase is related to his firm's representation of Cedar Fair.

Increasingly, I feel the drive by Murray and others to force the City Manager out is intended to replace her with someone who will be compliant and do whatever Murray and Cedar Fair desire.

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