Mayor Kristen Brown has proposed cutting about $400,000 from city departments’ electricity, heating and fuel budgets.
Under Brown’s proposal, the Columbus Fire Department would see its electric utility budget cut by
41 percent, its gas utility budget by 56 percent and its water/sewer utility by 13 percent.
Electricity budgets for City Hall, the City Garage, Parks & Recreation, Aviation, Police and Transit departments would be cut by an average of 25 percent.
Natural gas budgets for City Hall, the City Garage, Animal Care, Police, Transit, Parks and Aviation departments would be cut an average 49 percent.
Gasoline and diesel fuel budgets for 10 departments would be cut by more than 10 percent.
Some of the proposed cuts could be accomplished through more efficient light fixtures, temperature controls and motion sensors, some of which already have been installed in City Hall, Fire Station 1 and Hamilton Center Ice Arena.
However, Brown said many departments traditionally have budgeted much more for their utility bills than they needed and have used any excess in other areas, including building maintenance.
“Those (items) have been overbudgeted for a long time,” Brown said Thursday in her office at City Hall.
Volatility in energy costs prompted some of that overbudgeting, but some were just “extremely overbudgeted,” she said.
Asking the departments to align their utility expenses closer with actual bills is “very much intended to trim unnecessary spending,” she said.
The city’s appropriation reports do show that some utility budgets are much higher than utility bills.
Through the first six months of this year, Donner Center has spent about $5,000 from its gas utility budget. About $40,000, or 88 percent, of the amount budgeted for the year, remains. Sixty percent of the electric utility budget also remains.
The Fire Department, through June, had 71 percent of its electric utility budget remaining and 73 percent of its gas utility budget. It also had transferred about $8,300 from the gas utility budget to the fire building repair budget.
The practice of using money budgeted for utility bills for maintenance and repair is common: In the first six months of 2011, Donner Center transferred nearly $42,000 from its electric utility budget to areas including building repair and equipment repair. The Garage transferred $14,000 from its gas utility budget to equipment repair, and the Fire Department used $15,000 from its gas utility budget for building and equipment repairs.
Brown said some of those repair and maintenance expenditures may be warranted, but the moving of funds makes it difficult for her and the City Council to determine the city’s real utility and maintenance needs.
Brown instructed department heads to adjust their utility budgets to more closely reflect actual spending; and instead of moving money around, building maintenance needs will be addressed in a five-year capital plan.
That new approach will allow the city to determine the greatest needs and where to spend the money most effectively, Brown said.
She said she also asked department heads to increase their budgets in areas they felt were being neglected.
For example, the Fire Department is budgeting $30,000 for training and instruction for 2013, up from $5,000 this year.
City buildings also are receiving upgrades that will make them more energy efficient and, therefore, less expensive to heat and cool.
Jeffrey Logston, the city’s director of operations and finance, said City Hall’s more efficient lights, motion sensors and temperature controls are expected to reduce the electric bill by about $25,000 this year.
Fire Station 1 also has more efficient lights, Logston said, and other city buildings also will be retrofitted.
Columbus Parks and Recreation Department has focused on Hamilton Center Ice Arena, which incurred an electric bill in 2011 of $119,362, the highest in the city.
Parks director Ben Wagner said crews have painted the roof white to increase heat reflection and installed double-pane windows to replace the old single-panes. They also have installed more efficient lighting, a smarter control system, and a Low E ceiling, which improves insulation and reduces the cost to keep the ice cold.
The projects cost about $120,000, he said, but the lighting and more efficient ceiling alone should reduce the arena’s annual electric bill by $17,000.
Wagner said that the Parks Department’s lower utility budget for 2013 more closely reflects actual spending and will prevent any excess funds being used for maintenance and building repair.
He said he hopes that, as Brown proposed, some of the $3.5 million in income tax revenues the city received after a state error will be used to address some of the Parks Department’s infrastructure needs.
The City Council has to approve the budget.
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