Warren Auditor proposes budget increase to fulfill promises to taxpayers

By Ed Runyan



City Auditor Vince Flask is proposing a $28.2 million budget for 2017, which is about $3.2 million more than the 2016 plan of $25 million.

The key is the $3.4 million in additional income-tax revenue the city expects to collect in 2017 because of the additional half-percent income tax voters approved Nov. 8.

“Everything that was promised to the taxpayers is included in this budget,” Flask told the Warren City Council Finance Committee on Wednesday night.

Flask has estimated that the loss of the third shift at GM Lordstown will cut income-tax collections by about $45,000 in 2017, and job cuts at ValleyCare Trumbull Memorial Hospital will reduce collections by about $100,000.

The $100,000 is an estimate based on a reduction of 10 percent of the hospital’s current income-tax collections, Flask said.

Before the election, Flask estimated the tax increase would raise $3.5 to $4 million per year. The $3.4 million he estimates now is the result of the job losses at GM and TMH and other issues, he said.

City officials said the additional revenue would be used to increase the staffing levels at the police and fire departments and to create a road-maintenance program.

Flask said the budget provides for enough money to keep the police department at its current level of 58 officers through April, then rise to 65 through June and 70 through the end of the year.

Police Chief Eric Merkel said the current hiring list has two eligible candidates on it, so two new officers are likely to begin early in 2017, but three officers are expected to retire.

The Warren Civil Service Commission is expected to give a test within a couple of months for entry-level police officer, and that is expected to provide candidates to fill another 15 open positions, Merkel said.

Three more officers will be added to the four who currently work in the Street Crimes Unit, one more will assist with sexual-assault cases, one will be assigned to traffic cases and the rest will be added to road patrol, Merkel said.

The city will use a two-year federal grant to increase the number of firefighters by 15 during 2017, but $558,713 will be set aside so that firefighters hired under the grant “can ideally be retained after the expiration of the grant,” Mayor Doug Franklin has said.

The fire department has about 50 firefighters now.

All other city departments would be funded at the same level as 2016 except the operations department, which will get two additional workers under his plan, Flask said.

The operations department handles snow plowing, park maintenance and other maintenance operations.

The budget assumes that pay rates for city employees will not change in 2017 compared to 2016. Several unions agreed to wage freezes in the months leading up to the Nov. 8 vote. Negotiations with two other bargaining units are pending.

The city expects to see a $565,000 increase in income-tax collections because of factors unrelated to the tax increase, Flask said.

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