The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 4, 2012

Projects big, budget small in Conneaut

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — A 2013 budget that reflects several big-ticket capital improvement projects could come before City Council next week for formal approval.

Council members were introduced to the numbers at Monday night's finance/ordinance committee meeting. No big cuts in personnel are envisioned to help the city cope with a projected decrease in revenue caused — in part — by reductions in local government funds from the state.

In fact, City Manager Tim Eggleston said the proposed budget would make the city planning/zoning manager a full-time position instead of the 20-hour weekly job it is today. Deanna Gates, who holds the position, can't get her work done properly as structured, he said.

"Twenty hours just isn't doing it," he said. "A full-timer gives you some consistency."

Fees expected to be earned from the newly implemented vacant housing/building ordinance and pending zoning changes would help offset the expense, Eggleston said. Also, Gates could assume clerical duties for the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Commission, saving the city some additional expense.

The city appropriates some $45,000 annually for two part-time zoning inspectors, said Finance Director John Williams. The city has not utilized the second part-timer, officials said Monday.

Gates has done a good job in her limited role for the city, Eggleston said.

"She has gone to classes and has really grown," he said. "People enjoy talking to her and she gets things done."

Some 20 percent of the proposed budget, up to $3.5 million, reflects a handful of big capital improvement projects expected to start next year, including the construction of a new water tank on Creek Road, work to an aerial sewer line in the vicinity of Chestnut Street and Lake Road and a bank stabilization project on Keefus Road.

Much of that work will be financed through grants and low-interest loans, but still must be reflected in the city's line items.

Negotiations with the city's unions are proceeding, Eggleston said. The city has asked the unions to forego pay raises for the near future, and the response has been mixed, he said. The administration is hopeful the unions will understand the city's financial plight, Eggleston said.

"We're not hiding money," he said. "We have to scrape (to find money) to fix things."

The proposed budget would contain money to hire one mechanic and one heavy equipment operator for the Public Works Department. No operator has been on the payroll for nearly a year, officials said.

The city has received many applications from qualified mechanics, and someone could be hired within the next few weeks, Eggleston said.