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Published: Wednesday, 2/9/2005

Rossford: Cost savings keep city from deficit

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

By implementing a new refuse-collection fee, negotiating concessions from its unions, and modifying city services, Rossford City Council was recently able to adopt an amended 2005 budget to stave off a $650,000 deficit.

If city officials hadn't come up with the cost-savings measures necessary to balance the budget, 12 full-time city employees were to be laid off. As of now, nine crossing guards were laid off at the end of December.

The city employs about 35 people, plus 33 others in the volunteer fire department.

The city expects its fiscal 2005 general fund revenue to be $4,069,369, which is only a 1.6 percent increase over its fiscal 2001 total. Most of that comes from income taxes, which haven't risen enough to keep up with expenses.

New revenue will be coming in from the newly implemented $9 monthly refuse-collection fee for single and two-family dwellings, which began Jan. 1.

Households that have been certified by the Wood County Homestead Exemption Program - a tax-saving program for property owners 65 years of age or older, or property owners who are disabled with an annual income of less than $23,700 - would receive a $4 discount each month. The fee, which is projected to net $175,000, is for one year only.

Unions were due 4 percent wage increases this year, and are expected to give them up, saving the city about $92,000, City Administrator Ed Ciecka said.

He said agreements have been finalized with the nine members of Local 2954 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; the four members of the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association Command Officers Unit; and the 12 members of the OPBA Patrol Officers Unit.

He hopes to have agreements finalized this week with the two full-time employees of the United Auto Workers, and the 33 part-time employees of the Local 245 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

After all the agreements are finalized, Mr. Ciecka said the city will know whether it needs to lay off up to four part-time workers.

Because of the unions' cooperation, Rossford Mayor Bill Verbosky, Jr., said he would give back 5 percent of his $7,500 annual salary - or $375 - to the city in 2005. "Since I was asking people either not to take a raise or to forego a raise, I would also do my part," he said.

Rossford Law Director Keith Wilkowski said he would also reduce his gross salary by 5 percent in 2005. He is paid $95 an hour to attend council meetings, and $105 a hour for legal proceedings.

Council will also be saving money from authorizing a voluntary severance agreement last month with Sgt. Gary Vinson of the OPBA Command Officers Unit, who agreed to resign from his post for a severance payment of about $15,000 from the city. That would save up to $30,000, depending on the date his resignation takes effect, Mr. Ciecka said.

He said council granted up to an 18-month voluntary leave of absence for Sergeant Todd Kitzler of the OPBACommand Officers Unit and Patrol Officers Unit to reduce operating costs to the city, which could save the city about $40,000 in 2005, depending on the date of his leave.

As for cutting or modifying city services to keep funds in check, city officials have eliminated the fall and spring clean-ups, saving the city $20,000, and reduced the road salt used in Rossford by 25 percent by not salting residential streets, saving the city about $15,000, Mr. Ciecka said.

Officials plan to reduce the amount of overtime in all departments and raise recreation center fees, and they have put off some road repair work and vehicle replacements, raised marina fees, and delayed building a fire station.

"We'd like to maintain as many services as we can, but we are continuously looking at ways of trimming the costs here," Mayor Verbosky said.

When the deficit arose, a few community members questioned council about the $623,430 included as a revenue estimate in last year's budget, which was not listed in the 2005 budget.

Mr. Ciecka said the figure was an estimate of revenue the city projected it would receive from settling legal disputes over property owned by the Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority, possible private development in the Crossroads Area that never materialized, and collecting income tax from the new Meijer that was delayed.

"I'm going to have to say that it is a figure that was ambitious on the part of the city at the time, but it was based on probably the best-case scenario," Mr. Ciecka said, adding city expenses have been increasing, while revenues have not, which will force officials to keep a close eye on spending this year.

"We'll have to continue to monitor our revenue for the year and hope our revenue projection is conservative," he said. "But if the economy and revenue don't pick up, we'll have to look at cutting our expenses still."



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