Plymouth Starts with $1.3M Shortfall in 2013 Budget, but Local Economy 'Recovering'
There was mixed news for Plymouth Council at its first budgetary meeting.
Like many municipalities across the region, not to mention the state and federal governments, Plymouth Council is facing yet another shortfall to close in its 2013 budget, this time to the tune of $1.3 million. However, there are signs that the local economy is recovering from its 2008 low, meaning there could be more favorable times ahead, according to township finance director Tim Creelman.
Creelman presented the figures to council during its first budgetary session Monday night, and projects $18.69 million in revenues for 2013, compared to about $20 million in expenditures. However, Creelman said that expenditures rarely reach projected levels.
"Each year the department heads historically spend about 4 to 5 percent less than what council approves," Creelman said. "Historically, that would turn out to be about [a gap of] $765,000."
Creelman told council that the township is projected to enter 2013 with a fund balance of approximately $5.4 million, about $3.2 million of which is cash on hand. Creelman said that number has decreased from about $8 million prior to the recession in 2008.
Police department asks for additional hires
Council now has the unenviable task of closing the shortfall, while various department heads lobby for more funds. They heard first from the chiefs of the Plymouth Police Department and Plymouth and Harmonville Fire Companies, each of whom asked for increases in some form.
Plymouth Police Chief Joe Lawrence asked for the addition of at least three patrol officers, in order to get to a goal number of 46 total officers. Lawrence told council that despite officers facing nearly double the number of calls and required police hours from ten years ago, staff numbers have decreased.
"I have terminated several officers [over the years]… and I need to have those officers replaced," Lawrence said. "I know the finances of the township, believe me I understand that and respect what you have to do as council members… but my officers are running tired."
Lawrence gave an extended presentation that showed the department had 29 patrol officers in 2001, when a Public Administrative Services study recommended the department had to have at least 21. Using the same formula in 2011, the department is recommended to have about 39 patrol officers, while it is currently staffed with 24.
Adding in additional personnel such as administration and detectives, from which Lawrence said he has had to pull to keep patrol properly staffed, the department currently employs 42 officers, although one or two may enter long term leave next year, Lawrence said.
While council did not immediately take a stance on the hiring of additional officers, they did vote unanimously to approve testing with the Civil Service Board, essentially to create a pool of possible candidates should they vote to approve new hires.
"We have to walk before we run as council and take all this under advisement," councilman Dean Eisenberger said. "But I think as council we should immediately approve the testing."
Fire companies ask for new funds
Both the Plymouth and Harmonville Fire companies also asked for additional funds from the township. Fran Thomas, treasurer of the PFC, asked council for a slight increase in funds and that the company's two full-time employees be allowed to join the township's healthcare plan.
"Our costs continue to rise every year… with only two employees, you can't really get any kind of group discounts," said Thomas. "Wages and benefits are what they are. We've had no increase in township allocation for four years, and we've asked for a slight increase here to help us cover some of those additional costs we've absorbed."
Thomas also said the company plans to sell its older fire truck after council approved the purchase of a new ladder truck earlier this year. The company plans to use those funds to help renovate its 34-year-old station in 2015.
Council said they would look into adding the employees to the new DVHIT health care policy.
Harmonville Fire Company had a bit more to ask when it came to capital improvements.
Hugh Cullen, a trustee for the company, told council that both the Butler Pike and Germantown Pike stations were in need of improvements-- the latter much more so.
"It [was built] in 1966, renovated in 1989, and still does not meet our needs and we're really sort of limited in the expansion area," said Cullen. "We have some major concerns there and we're probably going to need to address them in the next few years."
Cullen also said that a ladder truck from 1991 has become a liability, requiring several costly repairs, including a hydraulic system that failed during a training exercise. Cullen estimated that a new station would cost anywhere in the $1.5 to $2 million dollar range, while refurbishing the truck would cost about $250,000, and buying a new one about $1 million.
Eisenberger suggested the possibility of refurbishing the truck in the hopes that it lasts for about 10 years, in order to use the extra funds to help renovate or pay for a station in the meantime. The township typically gives money to each company's capital improvement project annually, and attempts to stagger the purchasing of new trucks to avoid paying for multiple big ticket items at the same time.
The good news
Despite the tough economic conditions and difficult prioritizing of the 2013 budget, Creelman said there were several positive indications of a recovering local economy. This year’s business mercantile tax revenue has already eclipsed 2011's mark of $2.2 million, and is expected to finish at $2.475 million, Creelman said. Business privilege tax is also nearing its 2011 total of $2.9 million, and should finish at about $3.1 million.
"Business is starting to recover… after hitting the bottom in '08, revenues are starting to come back," Creelman said.
In addition, fines and licensing figures are about flat, Creelman said. One significant improvement appeared to come from the township's switch to a DVHIT health care plan, as the township only projects an increase from $3.2 to $3.3 million in health care expenditures.
"We use to get hit with a 10 or 15 percent increase ever year, so we've actually kind of held the line," Creelman said.
Council will hold at least two more budgetary meetings prior to adopting a final 2013 budget.