Youngstown’s economic woes should guide spending in 2014

When Youngstown lawmakers meet this week to review the 2014 spending plan submitted by the administration, they would do well to keep this warning in mind: Revenue projections are just that, projections; they aren’t etched in stone.

Just a couple of months ago, Mayor John A. McNally, who was sworn in at the beginning of the year, was delivered news that no new officeholder wants to hear: the collection of income and profit taxes in 2013 totaled $40,956,496 — $3,200,504 less than the finance department’s projection at the start of the year.

“There were corrections and adjustments that had to be made,” Kyle Miasek, deputy finance director, said in explaining why the final numbers for 2013 were off the mark. “We anticipated collecting a certain amount based on trends we saw during the year, but it didn’t continue at the end.”

Therein lies the challenge to city council as it reviews the 2014 proposed budget.

The McNally administration is anticipating a general fund of $41,743,436, which is less than what the numbers crunchers in City Hall had come up with about a year ago, but slightly more than government actually collected.

But the proposed budget does show that the administration is being cautious when it comes to spending on police, fire, parks and recreation and business development. Each of the funds reflects a decrease from last year.

With crime still the No. 1 concern for Youngstown residents, it may appear shortsighted to be reducing the police department’s budget. But the department has received federal grants to pay for two or three patrol officers, while two captains are retiring and will not be replaced.

While city government’s entire budget of $171.5 million is $3.7 million more than last year, we would advise against any pay raises this year, given the tenuous nature of the revenue — as last year showed.

Indeed, city residents want more police officers on the streets, more firefighters, an increase in the number of dilapidated houses torn down and a general upgrading of Youngstown’s appearance.

The budget submitted by the mayor sets aside $4.8 million for capital-improvement projects and equipment purchases.

Responsible spending

Youngstown council members have a responsibility to the taxpayers to ensure that public money is spent responsibly.

In this regard, we wonder about the increase in the clerk of courts’ budget — from $1,949,645 to $2,048,236 — when the number of judges in the municipal court has been reduced from three to two.

Questions should be asked about the larger budget and whether any of the money is going for pay raises.

City government cannot be blind to the reality that is Youngstown today.

The population is shrinking and getting older; a large number of residents are on fixed incomes and, therefore, do not pay income taxes; once stable neighborhoods are showing signs of decay; and crime remains a major problem. With the future uncertain at best, public-sector employees should disabuse themselves of the idea that they have a right to pay increases.

As we have pointed many times, the median income for a family of four in Youngstown is $24,000. In addition, nonresidents who work in the city generate most of the income tax revenue.

The bottom line is clear: There must be a tight rein on the budget.

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