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County Council updated on 2013 budget highlights

1/16/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Summit County saw an increase in revenues in 2013 and did better than expected financially, Summit County Council members heard during their Jan. 13 meeting.

Brian Nelsen, director of Finance and Budget, said the county’s revenues came in 3.2 percent higher than the previous year.

“We finished the year better than projected,” Nelsen told Council as he recapped last year.

There was an increase in expenditures over the previous year, but just 0.7 percent, Nelsen added.

Still, expenditures have continued to be higher than revenue, causing the county to dip into reserve funds to balance the budget. According to Nelsen’s report, in 2013 the county’s revenues were nearly $100.2 million and its expenditures were nearly $100.7 million, a difference of about half a million.

For this year, Nelsen projects that the amount of reserves needed will shrink to $188,000.

Looking at specific highlights, Nelsen said sales tax for 2013 was up 4.5 percent while property transfer tax increased 12.6 percent.

On the expenditures side, utility costs rose 3.4 percent and contract services fees increased 2.1 percent.

Nelsen added as he segued into discussion about the county’s Capital Improvement Program that there is an increased need to fund necessary county projects.

“As we move out of the economic recovery and we put a lot of purchases aside, the need to come up with funding for projects is going to become more crucial,” Nelsen said.

Among the needs is $4 million in work at the Summit County Jail, he said.

Council’s Finance Committee recommended Council adopt the Capital Improvements Plan for 2014-2019 and appropriate $8.3 million for the 2014 Capital Improvements Plan.

The biggest single projects are the county’s Pavement Maintenance Program with $2.5 million appropriated and nearly $1.2 million for environmental improvements for the Department of Environmental Services.

Also during the evening, Council conducted a brief special meeting to discuss and accept a fact-finder’s report related to the collective bargaining agreement for employees in the Fiscal Office that recommends a 1 percent raise for each of three years, effective September 2013.

“As we are slowly getting out of the recession, we have some tolerance for cost-of-living increases,” said Jason Dodson, chief of staff for County Executive Russ Pry. “1 percent is what that tolerance is to stay out of our Rainy Day Fund.”

He added that the county had proposed no raises for three years, but he noted that the 1 percent amount “is something from a financial perspective the county can live with.”

Nelsen said the raises for only the Fiscal Office employees would cost the county about $20,000, but he added if Council decided to extend 1 percent raises to all county employees, it would cost about a half million dollars this year.

County employees received 1.5 percent raises last year after going several years without pay increases. Dodson said if the county decided to move forward on raises for other employees, they traditionally do that in March, to take effect in April, but there has been no action on the issue.

In other business, Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee recommended Council adopt an amended resolution authorizing new agreements with communities seeking funding through the Moving Ohio Forward demolition program.

As part of the resolution, Springfield will receive an $90,000 more to address vacant or abandoned properties.

Dodson added that projects were to have been completed by Dec. 31, but the state has now extended the deadline to May 31.

At the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Paula Prentice (D-District 8) noted that this month is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. She provided Council members with information and asked them to share it in their districts.

She added that in Ohio alone, 1,000 children a year are part of what the Ohio Human Trafficking Commission calls modern-day slavery.

Council will not meet Jan. 20 due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Council will meet Jan. 27 at 4:30 p.m. for caucus, followed by a regular meeting in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St.

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