Finance committee

Mansfield Finance Director Linn Steward goes over the city's 2020 budget during a City Council finance committee meeting on Monday evening.

MANSFIELD -- Mansfield Finance Director Linn Steward warned City Council on Monday the city is not living within its means.

Steward, who took office eight years ago when Mansfield was in the mire of a state-ordered fiscal emergency, told members of the city's finance committee the city's proposed final 2020 budget is not fiscally responsible.

The finance committee will discuss the budget again Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. before the full council's regularly scheduled meeting. There will also be a streets committee meeting at 6 p.m. and a public affairs committee at 6:45 p.m., just before caucus begins at 7 p.m.

The final budget must be approved by the end of March.

The city's general fund began the year with a $5.6 million cash balance. But the administration's proposed general fund budget appropriations are $28.5 million with estimated revenue of $27.2 million.

According to Steward's five-year forecast, the city's cash balance by the end of 2024 will dip to $410,565 at current revenue and expense trends.

That is with no money for capital spending in the general fund or safety forces in 2020, a decision that Mansfield Police Chief Keith Porch and Assistant Fire Chief Jim Bishop both objected to during the meeting.

Near the end of the 80-minute committee meeting, Steward told council that the city, which emerged from five years of state-ordered fiscal emergency in 2014, must again budget planned spending to match revenue.

"I say it every year. If we were budgeting our appropriations to revenue, that $5,620,000 that we are starting out with ... that could be used for capital (expenses) and one-time projects," said Steward, a Certified Public Accountant.

"We are not being fiscally responsible having our appropriations this far in the red. That's where the problem is. We are overspending. We are not staying within our means," Steward said.

"If it comes to the state coming back, and they might, because we're headed that way, you're going to have to budget to estimated revenue," she said.

Steward said city revenues have been increasing, but so have expenditures.

Porch and Bishop both spoke about needs for capital expenses above normal operating expenses.

The city's safety forces budget for 2020 is $29.2 million with $15.4 million of that coming from the general fund. The two departments receive about $9.5 million annually from the voter-approved safety levy and the PRIDE tax.

Porch said the department needs new cruisers, among other things. He said the average mileage on the department's 25 marked patrol vehicles is 93,745 and that over half of the vehicles have more than 100,000 miles.

The chief said nine or 10 of the vehicles need to be replaced, but six new cruisers are an absolute need in 2020. The average vehicle in his fleet is seven years old and the oldest was made in 2005.

"If I don't get these cars, service could be affected," Porch said. "If they become unreliable or cost prohibitive  that we can't repair, I will have no choice but to double up officers in cars.

"We are not in that situation yet. Our mechanic has done a fantastic job of keeping our cars road worthy," the chief said.

In his written analysis to council, the chief said, "In a time when society demands a timely response because of situations like mass shootings, domestic violence, attacks on officers and overall violent calls, having properly equipped, reliable vehicles to respond is a must."

Bishop said the fire department is not asking for a lot of equipment.

"What I am asking for is recurring capital," Bishop said. "It's what we use for everyday stuff.

"We can't buy a helmet. We are getting ready to hire (firefighters) and we can't buy gear at this point in time without coming through council for these purchases," Bishop said. "Right now, we're treading water."

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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?"