Finance director: budget petition without merit

City officials dispute allegations made in a petition from 13 Columbus residents who object to the city’s proposed 2017 budget.

The petition, which also was signed by former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown, questions details about the proposed city budget and tax rate. The petition alleges that the city administration is representing the proposed budget as $53.4 million while the ordinance being considered by council members is for a $54.2 million budget.

Jamie Brinegar, the city’s finance director, said the petition is without merit and is just one of dozens the city has received over the past nine months from Brown and a small group of supporters. Brown was defeated by Republican Jim Lienhoop in the 2015 Republican primary for mayor. The latest complaint joins nearly 40 others that have been received by the city from Brown or her supporters, Brinegar said.

He said city council members will acknowledge receipt and respond to the complaint during its Tuesday meeting.

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“We have to do a finding for fact and we’ll do that at Tuesday’s meeting,” Brinegar said. A finding of fact is the city’s formal response to the petition.

The petition also claims the proposed 2017 budget is a 3.2 percent increase over the 2016 budget of $52.5 million. The document says the city has included three additional appropriations approved this year to the city’s general fund, which totaled $1.2 million to the 2016 adopted and certified budget as part of its calculations.

“If so, the city administration failed to disclose the discrepancy of this comparison in the representations of annual budget comparisons to the city council, the media and the public,” the petition states.

When those appropriations are added, the proposed 2017 budget of $54.2 million represents a nearly 1 percent increase, not a decrease of 0.5 percent that was presented during the Oct. 4 meeting, the petition states.

Russell Poling Sr., who signed the petition and serves on the Columbus Plan Commission, said budget information contained within the petition was based on proposed 2017 budget figures on the city’s website from August.

Poling, who lost a bid in the 2015 Republican primary to unseat current city council president Frank Jerome, said Brinegar told council members during the Oct. 4 meeting the 2017 budget would be less than 2016’s budget. Those who signed the petition don’t agree with that claim, because the additional appropriations were added to this year’s budget, he said.

A second complaint within the petition says the city administration presented “extremely misleading information” to council members, the media and the public by claiming that the proposed rate for next year — $1.3574 per $100 assessed valuation — is more than an 11 percent decrease from this year’s tax rate.

Describing that as grossly inaccurate, the petition says the 2016 tax rate certified by the Department of Local Government Finance is $1.1343, according to the petition.

“Therefore, the proposed 2017 tax rate is actually more than a 22 cent and a 20 percent increase from the 2016 certified rate,” the petition states.

The petitioners say they object to the proposed 2017 tax rate “because we believe it is based on an errant net assessed valuation.”

Brinegar said in an earlier interview the proposed tax rate of $1.3574 is an estimate and he expects it to be lower once the state certifies the city’s tax rate sometime in the first quarter of 2017. The city initially proposed a $1.53 tax rate for 2016, but the rate was later lowered and certified at $1.1343 by state officials.

If you go

What: Columbus City Council meeting

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Columbus City Hall council chambers, 123 Washington St.