2010 Budget Balanced; New Tax Will Not Fund Police or Fire Classes

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Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman Friday said 2010′s budget is balanced – so far. And the city’s recreation centers, yard waste pick up and other services will be restored.

“Maintain” was a word Mayor Michael Coleman used several times during his announcement of the city’s 2010 budget. At $655 million, the budget is less than it was two years ago – and there’s currently no deficit. The budget, the mayor says, will only “maintain” city services including the biggest, public safety.

“It’s important to remember that we promised our residents that we were going to maintain our city services not expand them,” Coleman said.

In August, the city approved a 25 percent income tax increase to avoid laying off almost 600 police officers and firefighters as well as other cuts to city services.

The city has kept its promise by not cutting any safety personnel. But it will not use any revenue from the tax increase to create new fire or police recruit classes. The mayor says, instead, it will apply for federal grants.

“We’re choosing to go with federal dollars. We pay taxes. Our citizens pay taxes to the federal government. It seems we ought to get that back. Our goal is to increase our fire and police through federal resources as we have, and I think that’s OK,” Coleman said.

The city also will restore its yard waste and bulk pick up. Two recreation centers will re-open April First – Barack on the south side and Martin Janice senior center at the fairgrounds. Coleman said all rec centers will be open full-time or part-time by September next year. They’ll operate either on city or private funds.

Coleman credit’s the restorations to the tax increase which was expected to generate up to $100 million. But now the city said that figure will be less – more like $85 million. And Coleman made no apologizes about the miss.

“I think it’s because we don’t have crystal balls. That’s basically it. I don’t think any economist in the country knew we would have a financial disaster in our country. And I think it just goes to us being human beings,” he said.

City officials say the tax increase also will generate about $70 million for the capital fund.

Matt Ferris, a republican who ran for Columbus City Council, and narrowly lost the seat, said he is not surprised by the missed revenue projections. Ferris said the tax increase helped cover the city’s fiscal mismanagement.

“If you don’t focus on the core essentials and you spend money on the icing on the cake so to speak, your essential services are hurt,” Ferris said.

Ferris said Columbus is at a cross road. He called the city’s budget problems systemic and worries taxpayers could face another tax increase or more service cuts.

“We’re going to get to the point here where if we don’t prioritize our spending and we don’t define what is a need and what is a want then unfortunately everything’s going to get cut whether it’s vital or not,” he said.

Coleman said the city is committed to fiscal responsibility. City officials are working to get non-union workers’ retirement and health benefits in line with the market. Coleman said this will save the city $33 million over the next ten years.

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