The city of Reynoldsburg is facing a budget crisis and is considering freezing salaries for elected officials and suspending insurance for part-time elected officials to help balance the budget.
“This is my 18th year on council and my last year on council,” council president William Hills said at a recent Reynoldsburg City Council finance committee meeting. “We have a major funding problem we have to address and we best address it right now.”
Hills said Reynoldsburg is facing a $1.3 million budget shortfall for 2012. In a memo he sent to council members, he suggested the salary freeze for elected officials.
In 2009, candidates being elected for 2010, including three at-large candidates and the city auditor, all had their salaries frozen at current levels through 2013, according to Hills. He is recommending the same salary freeze for the next four years for elected officials taking office in January.
“You need to do these things before you start into January,” Hills said. “I certainly don’t know any elected officials who would not have expected anything different than what I put in the memo.”
City auditor Richard Harris said the salary freeze has to go into effect before elected officials take office in January. In November voters will elect mayor, council president, city attorney and two ward council members.
Earlier this year an ad hoc committee of financial advisors also recommended eliminating the health insurance, Hills said. The committee was formed to review the city’s financial situation and make short and long-term recommendations to repair the city’s financial health.
“That was an independent group the mayor and council put together of five separate people who have an interest within Reynoldsburg business-wise,” Hills said.
Members of the financial task force asked why part-time council people were receiving medical benefits, he said. Reynoldsburg city officials thought a number of other cities also offered medical benefits to their part-time council members, but after conducting research in other cities like Gahanna, Westerville, Worthington, Grove City and Hilliard they learned only Hilliard offered the benefit.
“That was a surprise to me,” Hills said. “I think it was a surprise to many of the council people.”
Harris said eliminating the insurance for part-time public officials has the potential to save the city $95,000 to $100,000 or more as the cost of medical insurance continues to increase.
If the benefits are going to be eliminated elected officials need enough time to find alternate insurance plans, Hills said.
Hills said Reynoldsburg needs to make cuts wherever possible in order to offset the projected $1.3 million loss. Some recreation programming could be eliminated and there could be some staff reductions, including not filling the economic development director or chief building official positions.
Cuts might not be as severe if voters approve a 1 percent income tax on the November ballot. Residents are being asked to vote on increasing the income tax from 1.5 to 2.5 percent.
“If for some reason the tax levy passes in November some of those cuts may not have to be implemented,” Hills said.
Council’s finance committee also was scheduled to discuss an ordinance approving a salary for a new chief building official. The ordinance had a second reading in January, but was put on hold until council’s first meeting in September.
Councilman Fred Deskins, Jr. said the ordinance was pulled from the agenda to be discussed at another time and members of the finance committee were unwilling to send the legislation forward until the budget is thoroughly analyzed for possible cuts.
“I personally believe, and I think most council (members) feel the same way, that there will be no new hires or salary increases until this $1.3 million shortage in the budget has been answered,” he said.