BUSINESS

Findlay officials planning to add 11 workers in 2014

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

By JOY BROWN

STAFF WRITER

General fund spending of $25.3 million, or $400,000 more than this year's projected total, should be enough in 2014, City Council members informally decided at the conclusion of a nearly six-hour budget hearing Thursday. Council will vote on budget legislation at its first meeting of next year.

The relatively small spending increase, considering the hiring plans, will be made possible, in part, because of significant health insurance savings and because some higher-paid employees retired and resigned this year, administrators explained.

"I don't think we'd be in this great of a position if not for the approach we've taken to the economic downturn, coupled with the fact that we're seeing the local economy turn around," said Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer.

The Fire Department expects to recall three of the 10 firefighters who were laid off in May, which will increase shift size to 15 from 14 and put a ladder truck back in commission.

The Police Department has already hired four replacement officers, who will start next year after academy training. The department will hire two more, and will add a dispatcher.

At one point this year, Police Chief Greg Horne said, the force was down to 53 officers, a level not since seen 1979.

With the additional officers, Horne said he intends to revive the department's Special Assignment Unit, a division that he disbanded when the recession was affecting city government the most.

The Health Department will be adding a registered nurse to administer the county's Help Me Grow program, which targets children with developmental delays and provides services to at-risk, soon-to-be mothers and children. The program turns a profit, which is how the department will pay for the personnel addition.

Deputy Health Commissioner Barb Wilhelm said the program will conservatively take in $72,000 in revenue next year, and likely more with financial incentives the Ohio Department of Health is offering. The extra nurse will cost about $68,000, she said.

The Parks Department, under the direction of Public Works, will benefit from three new staffers. One will be a net addition, and the other two will be transferred from the engineering and recreation departments, said Public Works Superintendent Matt Stoffel.

Extra park workers will be used to continue improving the Marathon Diamonds and other outdoor facilities at the Cube, Stoffel said, a task the Parks Department took on this year so Recreation Department administrators would have more time to concentrate on the Cube's inner offerings and on marketing.

Computer services also plans to add an employee, but only to replace an existing worker who intends to retire at the end of 2014.

A human resources director and an engineer are also positions that the administration has budgeted for and hopes to fill next year.

Mayor Lydia Mihalik asked council for input about the city's communication methods and expenses, which weren't included in the proposed budget, but she received no feedback at Thursday's meeting. Afterward, she said she'd follow up with council members one last time to see where they stand on such ideas as hiring a communication liaison and informational advertising.

Council members did develop specific ideas on what they'd like to do with some of the projected $1.4 million general fund surplus.

Part of it will go toward increasing the city's minimum reserve balance, so the reserve could pay for two months of operations rather than a month and a half. Instead of about $3 million, the reserve would be set at about $4.2 million.

Auditor Jim Staschiak said the higher reserve will provide a larger buffer should income tax collections not go as high as projected.

Some of the budget surplus may also end up being shuffled into the capital improvements fund, but council members, at the administration's suggestion, agreed to wait until the 2014 capital improvement budget is proposed this spring.

An extra 1 percent of city income tax revenue already will go to capital improvements next year, bumping it up to 17 percent of the tax collection.

Next year "is definitely a year where we can take a look at our financial stability and do advanced planning with some additional staffing if we'd like," Schmelzer said. "I think it's a good budget. But I don't think we should be in a hurry to spend every penny we have coming through the door."

"What a difference a year makes," Mayor Mihalik said. "We're in a completely different scenario than we were a year ago, when we were preparing for the worst.

"Overall, I think it was a good meeting. We got to present what we feel is a strong case for public service delivery," she said.

Brown: 419-427-8496

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