Linn Steward

Mansfield Finance Director Linn Steward goes over a proposed 2022 temporary budget with members of City Council on Tuesday evening.

MANSFIELD -- Linn Steward went over the City of Mansfield's 2022 temporary budget on Tuesday -- without sounding a fiscal alarm.

The city's finance director has consistently cautioned City Council in recent years against budgeting to spend more than it takes in.

But after her presentation to council's finance committee, Steward agreed the city's financial picture is not as dire -- partly due to in the influx of federal funds through the 2020 CARES Act and the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, both in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those dollars have helped, as has a brightening local income tax revenue picture. 

"I think things have gotten a little better," Steward said.

"Income tax (revenue) is about 3.5 percent (about $1.75 million) more than 2019 at this same time of year. Of course, that Workers' Comp rebate that we got for $2 million really helped the general fund this year. That helps us go into next year.

"I anticipate that our estimated tax revenue will be able to be increased in the final budget once we see how everything came in through Dec. 31," Steward said.

Income taxes account for about two-thirds of the city's general fund revenue each year.

City Council gave a first read to the temporary spending plan, including a $31 million general fund, on Tuesday and is scheduled to vote on it Dec. 31. A final budget for 2022 must be approved by March 31.

Steward said that, with the exception of contractual salary and benefit increases, the 2022 temporary budget "includes relatively the same appropriation amounts that are in the 2021 adopted budget" for the general fund and funds supported by the general fund.

It also doesn't include $5 million that City Council set aside in September for "revenue replacement" from the $10.5 million Mansfield received in ARPA funds. The city will receive another $10.5 million in ARPA funds in 2022.

The money set aside as revenue replacement can be used for general fund purposes, Steward said, though expenditures would have to be in line with ARPA guidelines and receive council approval.

Despite the overall brighter picture, Steward also pointed out there are no general fund capital projects in the budget, with the exception of recurring police and fire department needs.

"There are no police cruisers. There are no computers ... things people need in the general fund. Hopefully, we'll have enough left over (at the end of 2021) to put some of that in the final budget.

"I think this influx of federal money has helped to buy some equipment that we wouldn't have been able to," she said.

Steward also presented a five-year financial forecast to council, which suggests the city general fund could be in the red by the end of 2024. Admittedly, such longer-range projections are simply that -- projections.

Her forecast cash balances are based on the assumption income tax revenue will be 5 percent higher than the amount estimated and that actual expenses will be 8 percent lower than appropriations.

"That's kind of the trend," Steward said.

According to her forecast, the city will have a general fund cash balance of $4.1 million at the end of 2022, a figure that would drop to $414,284 at the end of 2023 and dip into the red in 2024.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"