Bexley council looking for ways to balance budget

Bexley City Council continues to take a scalpel to the proposed 2008 budget, in a line-by-line effort to cut costs, but it appears that they may need a hatchet instead to eliminate a $2.6 million deficit.

"That’s the new number. And it’s only getting bigger," pointed out Council President Mark Masser at a Nov. 7 finance committee to review the parks and recreation budget.

Auditor Larry Heiser provided revisions that increased the projected deficit from $2.3 million.

The mandate is clear for department heads, stated Councilman Matt Lampke, chairman of the finance committee.

"The question is no longer ‘Do you have enough?’ " Lampke said. "The question is ‘Where can you cut?’ "

Parks and Recreation Director Doug Jackson presented a spending plan with a 21 percent decrease in operating expenses for Jeffrey Mansion and an almost 12 percent decrease in operating expenses for the pool. Other categories remained flat or showed only slight increases.

One area targeted for scrutiny in the mansion operating budget was overtime costs.

Jackson has budgeted $21,000 for potential overtime payments in 2008, the same as this year.

By the end of October, only $14,000 had been spent for overtime in 2007, Heiser noted.

Two years ago the city eliminated four grounds maintenance positions and hired a landscaping firm to cut the grass and plant flowers.

But the men who were laid off did more than cut grass, Jackson explained, and that the remaining maintenance employee looks after the grounds, mansion and pool, making overtime hours necessary.

Council members questioned whether it would be more economical to hire part-time employees to cover some of the weekend and evening hours.

They also suggested that recreation supervisors, who do not receive overtime pay, could take on some of the weekend duties.

Jackson didn’t see much savings in hiring part-time workers, and he pointed out that the employees’ union keeps a sharp eye out to make sure members get the overtime they are entitled to receive.

"Do they like the overtime? Yes. Do they love it? No," Jackson said of the additional job responsibilities.

Having to open the mansion early and close up late on election day kept his maintenance worker from getting to vote himself, he said.

Jackson didn’t think his supervisors would be thrilled with the prospect of working more weekend hours.

Masser was adamant that Jackson and other department heads cut overtime costs, and said it’s up to them to figure out how to use their employees in the most cost-effective way.

Council members were also disturbed by the $475,000 transfer from the general fund to the recreation fund in 2007, which supports the programs offered to residents.

Lampke recommended that the figure be reduced to 2006 levels of $405,000.

The 2007 budget showed revenue, plus the beginning balance, at around $460,000. For 2008, that revenue figure is projected to be $391,659.

"Revenues are going down, and expenses are going up," Councilman John Rohyans said.

Councilman Hanz Wasserburger asked for ideas to increase revenue, and Jackson responded that raising fees is the simplest thing he can do.

But raising fees can drive residents to seek recreational options in other cities, he added.

About 80 percent of the programs offered make money, Jackson said.

Councilwoman Robyn Jones noted that a lot of programs are offered for children and senior citizens, and questioned whether the recreation department is offering enough activities for younger adults.

"I feel like there are a lot of holes," Jones said. "There is nothing in this (catalogue) that I want to take."

Masser suggested that the city could partner with hospitals to fund health programs, or it could offer activities jointly with the Jewish Community Center or St. Charles School.

"Those are the kind of ideas we have to start thinking about differently," Masser said.

The space at the mansion is the limiting factor in working with other organizations, Jackson said.

A meeting to discuss the future of Jeffrey Mansion, possibly as an expanded recreation and events center, is scheduled for Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at the mansion.

John Brennan, Bexley’s mayor-elect in unofficial results and recreation director in Hilliard, said the department needs to take advantage of revenue from the new pool by offering early bird rates from January to May.

"You always have to subsidize rec," Brennan observed. "But you want to get that figure down. And the only way to do that is to raise revenue."

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