The following is the latest installment of Mayor Jim Boroff's monthly updates on city issues.
Mayor's proposed budget. As chief executive officer of the city of Tiffin, I take very seriously my duty of ensuring that our citizens receive optimal safety-service protection and the best operation of local government that is possible for our tax dollars. Each year, as the administration prepares our version of the operating budget, we scrutinize the allocation of every dollar, making each one stretch as far as possible.
A recent editorial in this newspaper was absolutely correct in its observation that local government funding will continue to be an issue, given imminent funding cuts from the state and the likely shrinkage of federal grants. Each year's budget promises to be more challenging than the previous one - and, I am committed to keep city finances above water by using every legitimate financial tool at my disposal.
Two years ago, as the administration was readjusting our sewer rate schedule, our consultants brought to our attention that the city was not following state-suggested best practices for the allocation of sewer revenue funds. By law, the city's sewer operation is to be treated as a separate business - keeping it aside from the finances of the general fund. This means all expenses in sewer operation should be accounted for and paid for by sewer revenue - including administration fees. This was calculated into the new sewer rate formula which was subsequently passed by City Council.
Upon checking with the state auditor, our own auditors and, subsequently, Jim Petro (former auditor of state and state attorney general), we are assured this is the accepted and recommended practice known as "sewer splits." By not adopting this policy, we were effectively making taxpayers subsidize what should be a self-sustaining enterprise.
Based upon general practice and calculated time spent on sewer administration, we universally were advised to ascribe 33 percent of all wages and benefits of selected administrative personnel as sewer-related expenses. This is exactly what we did in 2009. However, last year, during the preparation of the 2010 budget, certain council members balked at the administration's proposed sewer splits and wanted them cut entirely, which would have required extensive personnel cuts.
If you have any questions about any issues facing the city, please write to me in care of 51 E. Market St., Tiffin, or at email@example.com. I am happy to speak with anyone who has concerns, suggestions or questions about the city. Call my office at (419) 448-5401 or stop by without an appointment. To ensure I am available, call ahead.
To avoid a last-minute deadlock, the council and the administration agreed to use an arbitrary percentage of sewer split funding in order to enter the year 2010 with a balanced budget. Even with this compromise, non-represented employees still had a 7-percent cut in pay and those employees who had been laid off remained so. At this same time, council passed an ordinance addressing future use of sewer split allocations. In that ordinance (09-77), council stipulated progressive yearly reductions in the use of this funding, down to 15 percent in the year 2014.
My 2011 proposed budget not only is balanced, but it provides for continuing all current services without any cuts in services or requiring additional layoffs. Furthermore, it provides for keeping the municipal pool open, maintaining the park and recreation summer youth programs and having the Fourth of July fireworks. My proposed budget also covered the city's portion of the 10-percent rise in health insurance premiums.
Granted, in order to work, this proposed budget does utilize the full state-recommended measure of sewer split funding, which is 33-percent of all pertinent wages and benefits. Unfortunately, at the same time, it also extends the 7-percent reduction in the pay of non-represented employees throughout 2011.
There are claims being circulated in some quarters that the administration is not honoring last year's "compromise" with Council on sewer splits. In fact, we most definitely are.
Ordinance 09-77, which was sponsored by those council members who opposed the usage of sewer splits, reads in Section 2 as follows: "City Council shall reduce the percentage of the compensation paid from the Sewer Enterprise Fund. ..."
Note - it is City Council that is to reduce the percentage of the split that is incorporated in the budget and make other necessary adjustments to meet that criteria.
There is nothing in this ordinance, any other legislative action or in the City Charter that requires I use a Council-formulated restriction when submitting my suggested budget for consideration. Nothing precludes the mayor from submitting a proposed budget that utilizes every legitimate source of funding. It is well within the responsibilities of my office.
Council, as the holder of the purse strings, still has the City Charter-prescribed prerogative of complying with its own self-imposed restrictions if they so desire. By their own ordinance, council members are requiring themselves to reduce the percentage used from sewer funding. If they choose to make those cuts based upon their own restrictions, they certainly have that power.
I, on the other hand, presented the most workable budget I could author. It does not require additional taxpayer funding nor does it place more burdens on our citizens. Above all, it keeps our city functioning reasonably well.
It is my hope that, if City Council decides to make changes and cuts, they have compelling reasons for doing so that are beneficial to the people they represent and serve.