By Kevin Kelley
Westlake City Council members and the public got in an overview of future spending by the municipal government Saturday during the annual daylong budget hearing.
The 2014 budget proposed by the administration of Mayor Dennis Clough estimates revenues for all city funds to be $69.75 million, with expenditures set at $92.40 million. The gap of $22.65 million may seem large. However, the budget includes expenses that may not be incurred at all next year.
For example, the capital improvement budget includes $2 million earmarked for the public space at Crocker Park, to be known as Market Square. Council President Mike Killeen said that money will not be spent until 2015 or even 2016. The budget also includes salaries and benefits for 14 full-time and 10 part-time currently vacant positions that may not all be filled, at least not for all 12 months of 2014.
The city will enter 2014 with a surplus of $73.74 million in all of its funds and expects to end the year with a surplus of at least $51.09 million.
In the general fund, which pays for many day-to-day functions of municipal government, the city will begin 2014 with a surplus of $36.42 million and end the year with at least $26.46 million, according to the proposed budget. Estimated revenues will be $29.93 million, with expenditures set at $39.89 million.
Income tax revenue to the general fund is expected to increase by 2 percent, finance Director Prashant Shah said, from $14.8 million in 2013 to $15.1 million in 2014. Property tax revenue to the general fund is expected to remain roughly steady, at $10.3 million in 2014, down from $10.5 million in 2013.
Killeen and Shah both said the estimates on revenue are on the conservative side.
The assessed valuation, on which property taxes are based, has remained relatively stable in Westlake compared to other communities, Shah said.
During the budget hearing, the director of each municipal department presented an overview of expected spending during the coming year. However, even after the overall 2014 budget is approved, many larger projects and expenditures will require separate approval by council.
For example, in its budget, the fire department is requesting two new ambulances, at $250,000 each, and one 105-foot ladder truck, at $1 million. The three vehicles would replace existing, aging ones, Assistant Fire Chief Jim Hughes told council.
Clough said that although he included the ladder truck request in the budget, he was not fully committed to spending the money. “One million dollars for one truck is always a topic for discussion,” the mayor said. Clough said further discussions on regional cooperation among the Westshore fire departments was needed before the truck request was addressed.
Requests by the police department included six replacement police cruisers, at a total of $191,000; a motorcycle, at $20,000; and a new digital radio system that most public safety agencies are moving toward, at $250,000. An upgraded camera system for 10 police cruisers was also requested at a cost of $55,000.
Police Chief Richard Walling, who is retiring Dec. 28, joked that council should call him Jan. 2 if they had any questions about his department’s budget.
The service department’s budget included a request to build a new barn to store road salt at a cost of $441,000. That structure and other storage facilities are needed, service Director Paul Quinn said, to comply with federal EPA regulations.
The engineering department budget, presented by city engineer Bob Kelly, included requests for $3 million for general road maintenance and $3.28 million for an upgrade of the city’s traffic signal system.
Up to $400,000 in additional legal fees and/or studies associated with Westlake’s examination of what entity should be the suburb’s water supplier was also included in the proposed budget.
The elimination of the Ohio estate tax will affect Westlake, but not as much as other cities, Killeen said.
“It will give us less flexibility in future capital projects,” the council president said. Killeen noted that Westlake had not used estate tax revenue for general operating purposes like some cities did, but instead set that money aside to fund long-term capital expenditures.