City approves first reading of 2022 budget

City officials are proposing a total budget of about $84.63 million for 2022.

Columbus City Council approved the first reading of the budget at its Sept. 21 meeting. According to director of finance, operations and risk Jamie Brinegar, the total amount for the proposed budget is $84,630,372. The council will vote on the budget’s second reading at an Oct. 19 meeting.

The budget differs slightly from the version discussed by officials in late August. At the time, Brinegar said the budget was about $83.44 million. However, he more recently said that the August total, including all funds, was actually $85,791,154.

The updated $84.63 million version of the budget is an overall reduction of $1,160,782. The new budget includes adjustments to grant fund budgets, as the August version included estimates based on 2021 numbers. Federal Aviation Administration grants have since been adjusted down by about $1.4 million, and Community Development Block Grants have been adjusted up about $141,000.

“That’s just in the pool of money that is available within those grants, because it’s a multiple year process,” said Brinegar.

Another change is the decision to budget city council salaries all the way to midpoint. The increase, which was approved via a salary ordinance, moves each member’s pay from $8,301 to $15,079. The preliminary budget only moved each member’s salary halfway to midpoint. Per Brinegar’s presentation, the decision to go all the way resulted in a $25,538 increase to the budget, including the boost to both salaries and FICA.

There are also some changes in the budget due to four firefighter retirements planned next year.

“And as part of our public safety officers’ retirement, there is some significant payouts that go with those. And so we’ve added an additional $91,547,” Brinegar said.

He added that the four firefighters who are retiring are each paramedics, so the city is also budgeting $18,000 to offer a paramedic class to four other firefighters.

There have also been adjustments to aviation, pension for police and fire, and the bond for The Commons.

Other budget highlights include cost of living adjustments for city employees’ salaries and $11.4 million in capital projects. This includes $6 million for road improvements, $2 million for public safety needs and $1.3 million in parks and recreation improvements, said Brinegar.

The 2022 budget’s American Rescue Plan section totals about $3.35 million. Expenses in this fund include $1 million for consulting services, about $1.2 million for grant expenditures, $200,000 for miscellaneous services and $967,500 in capital expenses.

The ARP Act states that cities can use their allocations to provide for government services “to the extent of the reduction in revenue of such metropolitan city … due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

City Director of Administration and Community Development Mary Ferdon said at a previous city meeting that while the state board of accounts doesn’t allow the city to directly pay departments back for revenue lost, they can pay for “capital items” to make up for these losses.

The 2022 budget also continues provisions for city golf. The city council has once again budgeted $176,000 in its budget to provide funding for the parks department’s city golf courses, and parks director Mark Jones said at a previous meeting that the department will “continue golf as is for next year.” Columbus Parks and Recreation manages both Greenbelt and Par 3 courses.

Additionally, Brinegar said the proposed tax rate for 2022 is $1.3870; however, in previous years the certified rate has typically been lower than proposed amount by about 15% to 25%. In 2021, the proposed rate was $1.4132 and the certified rate was $1.1509.

The city anticipates the certified rate to be in the $1.14 range, Brinegar said.

“I think that we’re doing a lot all over the city,” said Councilman Frank Miller. “… The actual, final certified rate could be lower than it’s been the last two years. It could be as low as it’s been in the last five years, just depending on where that certification does fall. So I think we’ve done well with this year’s budget.”