Linn Steward

Mansfield Finance Director Linn Steward (right) and members of her staff meet with City Council members Monday during the first hearing on the city's 2020 temporary budget last fall. (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- Local income tax collections were down 18 percent from last year during the first two weeks of April, Mansfield Finance Director Linn Steward told City Council on Tuesday night.

But it's still early to tell for certain the complete impact of the coronavirus on the city's overall financial picture, Steward said during a virtual public meeting live-streamed on the city's Facebook page.

Steward, who has said the city will likely receive 20 percent less revenue in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reviewed with council what funds will most likely be impacted by the statewide shutdown and business closures that began in March.

A municipality depends heavily on income taxes to fund its general fund.

"Budget reductions would be needed for funds with a negative unappropriated balance," Steward said her presentation. "In addition to budget reductions, usage of the budget stabilization fund can ease the burden on the general and safety-services funds."

Steward listened in Tuesday morning on the Richland County commissioners meeting, during which Auditor Pat Dropsey said it was too early to begin making budget cuts. The county is largely dependent on sales tax revenues for its general fund.

"As the auditor said this morning, we know we will have less money," Steward said, adding she will have a clearer picture in May.

Steward said a combination of budget cuts and usage of the stabilization fund, established by the city in 2013, could both be utilized to offset declining revenue, depending on how long the stay-at-home order is in place.

She cautioned council that the ordinance authorizing the stabilization fund requires funds taken from it must be replenished. Steward said the ordinance allows the city to only contribute 5 percent of its total annual revenue, roughly $1 million per year.

"If we take $3.6 million out (of the fund), it will take 3.5 years to replenish it," she said.

Steward said the city will receive about $800,000 from the state this year in workers' compensation rebates, which could be used to cover budget shortfalls, including the safety-services fund.

6th Ward Council representative Jean Taddie asked Mayor Tim Theaker if the administration has made any plans to begin trimming the budget.

Theaker said the city has instituted a hiring freeze and has also eliminated training and travel expenses. He didn't offer more specifics, but said he is working with Steward and others on a daily basis to formulate plans going forward.

Also on Tuesday:

-- Council approved spending $11,605 to purchase turnout gear for five new firefighters, including $1,566 from the department's contract services budget and the remainder from its capital equipment fund.

Fire Chief Steve Strickling also told council that the department was in its 35th day of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said 11 firefighters are under supervision after being exposed to residents positive for coronavirus, meaning they are medically checked every 12 hours.

The chief said he is concerned about the two state prisons in Mansfield and the potential for COVID-19 outbreaks among inmates that would require the department to transport those who test positive. The Mansfield Correctional Institution reported its first positive test among inmates on Tuesday. The Richland Correctional Institution thus far has none.

-- Council approved the acceptance of $8,496 from the Ohio Supreme Court to update the Mansfield Municipal Court's remote technology and $35,154 from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services for the city's crime lab. Neither donation requires a local match.

Council meets again on May 5.

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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?"