Weirton begins budget preparations

WEIRTON – While Weirton city officials are hoping revenues will come in higher than expected in the new fiscal year, for now they’re working with the assumption that 2013-14 will be lean.

City Manager Valerie Means said they’re being “conservative” as they prepare their preliminary budget, which can always be adjusted if the actual numbers come in higher – or lower – than expected. As the city’s fiscal picture evolves throughout the year, she said council will be asked to consider revisions “to stay as accurate as we can.”

“It’s a working document, all year long we have the ability to revise it,” she said.

“We want to be conservative now, so come July 1 or August or September, if we come back with budget revisions” it will be because we have more money than we expected, she said. “We don’t want to go in the other direction.”

Council began working on its preliminary spending plan for 2013-14 last week, spending more than two hours Friday discussing cash carryovers and line items. It’s a working document, so for now they’re using baseline projections that will be tweaked as real data comes in and funding decisions are made.

The conservative scenario that Means and City Finance Director Tom Maher are using as the budget launch point assumes general fund revenues just short of $13 million and a general fund carryover in the $460,000 range. As a starting point, it also assumes, among other things, there won’t be any money going into the city’s finance stabilization account, pay raises or staffing increases, though all that can and very likely will change as council decides how and where to allocate 2013 funding.

“It shows a surplus, that’s what we have to work with at this point in time,” he said.

But contract negotiations are ongoing, and if pay and benefits go up she said the added expense will have to be factored into the new budget, as will the cost of any extras, like requests for new computers, vehicles or safety equipment, council chooses to fund.

Maher said the starting document also assumes a decline in table gaming revenues, due to increased competition from Pennsylvania and Ohio casinos, but an increase in hotel occupancy tax receipts. It also assumes an overall dip of less than 1 percent in general fund operating revenues.

On the other side of the ledger, he’s also anticipating council will continue to use general fund dollars to cover expenses involving sanitation and stormwater correction, something Ward 4 Councilman George Ash and Ward 7’s Terry Weigel say they’re reluctant to continue.

“If we keep taking from the general fund, all of a sudden you’re going to get hit,” Ash said. “I don’t like taking money out of the general fund for these two items at all.”

Means said they’re taking a hit from what she described as “unfunded federal mandates, that’s exactly what it is.” She said they’re doing their best to “stay consistent with regulations” without jumping in head-first, in hopes that funding or regulatory adjustments will ensue.

Weekly budget workshops will continue Friday, and at Weigel’s request department heads will bring their prioritized spending requests plus supporting data to the Feb. 22 session.

“Every department head needs to come back and say this is what we absolutely have to have,” Ash said.

Meanwhile, Maher said they should have actual ad valorem numbers from Brooke and Hancock county by March 4. They’ll spend the following four days (March 4-8) finalizing the budget, and present it to council on March 11.

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