By Kevin Kelley
While the city’s stated 2013 budget shows an annual deficit in the general fund of $3.88 million, city officials don’t think next year will be nearly that bad. In fact, Mayor Dennis Clough said he expects the general fund will take in more than is spent.
The reason for the mayor’s optimism is the city’s conservative budgeting approach. Like many area municipalities and school districts, Westlake budgets in a way that tends to underestimate revenue and overestimate expenditures.
For example, many unfilled positions remain in the budget even though no one is collecting a paycheck for the slot. And many expenditures itemized in the budget still need to be approved by City Council and may not be executed, at least not in 2013.
“One good thing about government is that it can’t spend money as fast as one can project it,” quipped council President Mike Killeen during the legislative body’s annual daylong budget hearings Dec. 8.
Mayor Dennis Clough told council members that the financial forecast is overall pretty good for 2013.
“The city of Westlake is doing pretty well financially, especially considering the current financial times,” Clough said.
Finance Director Prashant Shaw told West Life the conservative budget is a “worse-case scenario.”
“Typically, by the end of the year we end up reversing our projections where revenues come in higher than expected and expenditures come in lower than budgeted,” Shah said. “As an example, for 2013 we are showing no growth in income tax revenues (in the official budget); however, in 2012 we are ahead by more than 6 percent over the previous year. We estimate that the 2013 collections will come in higher than 2012 at least by 2 to 3 percent.”
Shah said the 2013 budget projects income tax revenue of $14.4 million, flat from last year but up roughly $2 million from 2010. The estimated property tax revenue next year will be $10.6 million, down roughly $100,000 from this year, and $400,000 lower than in 2010.
By the end of 2012, the general fund revenue will be $29.96 million, about 870,000 over expenditures, according to Finance Department documents.
Going into 2013, the general fund has a balance of $21.51 million. All funds totaled – many dedicated by law or policy – have a balance of $69.29 million. The budget has that figure falling to $46.62 million, again under a “worse-case scenario.”
Big projects for 2013 include the city paying $2 million for the long-planned civic area at Crocker Park, part of the development’s final phase that involves American Greetings’ headquarters, Clough told West Life.
Big engineering projects for next year include $6.1 million for the relocation of part of Clemens Road to reduce traffic congestion near Interstate 90 and $2.8 million to widen Detroit Road near its intersection with Bradley Road. The city also plans to spend $2.2 million in general road maintenance, City Engineer Bob Kelly told council.
The Community Services Department budgeted $369,000 in repairs for its 50-year-old building on Center Ridge Road. However the mayor said the city should look at whether a new building is needed. Programs at the center, which serves mainly senior citizens, have been growing in popularity.
“We have been above capacity at our center for a number of years,” community services Director Joyce Able Schroth told council.
Clough said if the city decides to construct a new building, only $75,000 would be spent for immediate repairs on the building in 2013.