LORAIN — A member of City Council is pushing city leaders to prepare five-year budgets along the lines of what school districts are required to do.
Councilman Mitchell Fallis, D-At large, wrote a letter addressed to Mayor Chase Ritenauer and city Auditor Karen Shawver asking for a change from the city’s current budget process that provides Council with a budget for the next year’s revenue and expenses.
“Lorain City Council is faced with legislative decisions that impact the finances of the general fund not only in the current year, but beyond,” Fallis said in the letter. “Specifically, Lorain City Council will be faced with legislation to approve or disapprove union contracts impacting future years.”
For example, Fallis said, Council gave additional money to purchase police cars this year and then learned Lorain Police Department has a five-year replacement cycle for police cars.
“It is impossible to know if the 2017 funding of police cars is at an appropriate level, without knowing what the future needs are for police cars and if money will be available to budget police car purchases in 2018 through 2022,” the letter said. “As a Council-at-large official, I cannot make an informed and fiscally responsible decision to approve spending of city monies in future years without knowing if money will be available to fund commitments today.”
Ritenauer believes the city already is working on such issues.
“The way I look at it is that it’s more in line with projections into the future — pro forma, if you will,” he said. “It’s something that the auditor’s office is going to have a lot of the information on. From what I gather, this member of Council is bringing up some things that the city probably will need to think about in the next five years, and that we are thinking about.”
Citing examples of things already on the city administration’s radar, Ritenauer said that the city’s SAFER grant, which funds firefighters, will expire in the middle of 2018 and the city will need to go for a renewal of its temporary 0.25-percent income tax in 2019.
“Any budget is going to be blown if any one of those revenues goes away,” Ritenauer said. “The SAFER grant, we have planned for that to go away. That’s why we have the fire levy. I think the point is just to be thinking of the next five years, which we’re doing a lot of already.”
Fallis listed a number of benefits that could come from implementing a five-year budget:
- It would provide City Council with a current state of the city’s finances to aid in setting a course toward a sound financial management plan over the next five years.
- It will help create a financial plan to avoid future financial duress.
- It will create a best-practice in the budgetary process that will be viewed favorably by they city’s credit rate service provider, Moody’s.
The councilman said he submitted the letter “as a correspondence from a government official” for Monday night’s City Council meeting, so he expects discussion on it.
In the letter, Fallis requested Council be provided with a five-year city budget by the end of September or before Council is requested to vote on a union contract, whichever comes first. He said he’d like to see something at the latest by the end of the year.
Ritenauer, though, isn’t sure that’s feasible.
“We just finished our audit for 2015. We’re in the middle of the 2016 audit,” he said. “(Shawver’s) working on the annual information statement, and we’re getting ready to figure out our numbers for the 2018 budget that needs to be sent over to the county. There’s a lot of things now that are drawing our attention.”