Letter: We should ask right questions about budget

From: Oakel Hardy


Even after many years of involvement with the city budget over my 40-year career with the city of Columbus, I still maintain an interest in city budgeting practices. At the recent City Council meeting, there was reportedly considerable discussion about the additional appropriations being requested, why they were being requested and other concerns. There are several reasons why additional or reduced appropriations may be necessary or proper.

1. Come-ups: Those are the totally unpredictable things that occur in life, such as extremely hot or cold weather that can run up utility bills, some sort of international incident that affects gasoline and diesel fuel prices, and severe storms or fires that affect fuel usage and overtime. Other types of come-ups can be unforeseen opportunities that were not known when the budget was formulated.

2. Actual budgeting errors: Failure to properly budget salaries, wages and associated costs (with the exception of overtime and those associated costs), not properly budgeting for previously approved expenses, such as loan payments, calculation errors, etc.

3. State changes: These can be additions or reductions to the initial budget due to an error by the State Department of Local Government Finance. These don’t occur often, however, we have had at least two in the past few years.

With that, what are the questions we should ask ourselves?

1. What is the reason for the additional appropriations? I am not going to try to explain all the ins and outs; however, the upshot is the state asked cities to change the way we calculate and advertise the budget. This resulted in the city receiving less money than we were entitled to. Remember, state reductions in property taxes a few years ago have severely squeezed local government budgets. The state corrected that in February. Other funds have come from better-than-expected results from the 2016 budget.

2. What is the impact of these additional appropriations on the city’s operating balances and rainy day funds? This is always an important question that must be asked of the city clerk-treasurer’s office. I checked with the clerk’s office. In my opinion and theirs, proper fund balances will be maintained.

3. Is this request a good use of city funds? Most of the requested funds are parks and streets, both heavily used and needing repairs. It is about as “meat and potatoes” as it gets.

In summary, it appears most of the funding source was due to a state error. Approving the additional appropriation does not damage city fund balances, and I would hope all of us understand the need to maintain our parks and streets as well as city equipment. This is clearly not frivolous spending.

Of the code enforcement mileage request of $3,500 and the change in approach of redevelopment staffing of $25,174 for a total of 1.2 percent of the total request, I will leave it to you to judge what category they fall under.