Stow’s 2017 budget

Last night, Stow’s council had the opportunity to discuss the 2017 budget. We also had some folks join us to talk about the Twitter issue. Here’s a link to a video:

But this post is going to be about the City of Stow’s finances — not Twitter.

First, a recap of 2016. This time last year, Stow projected a budget deficit exceeding $400K. I told you back then, that deficit would not come to fruition. The city’s revenue estimates were far too conservative. I’m happy to tell you, I was right. Stow avoided a deficit last year, and in fact, we had a $313,000 surplus. 2016 was the second consecutive year that we have brought in more than we have spent ($245K surplus in 2015).

Now, for 2017 … There is a planned deficit of $340K. And again, I beg to differ on the numbers underlying that projection. The Finance Department is projecting income tax growth of 0%. The question is: How reasonable is that estimate? Well, we had 2.8% growth last year. Our average growth over the last 20 years is 2.66%. Since creating the city income tax in 1972, Stow has only had 3 years of decline (so if 2017 has 0% growth, it would be the fourth-worst year in the past 45 years). However, if we project a normal rate of growth (say, 2.5%), then we have another surplus in 2017.

Still, the budget is not perfect. There are some points that I plan to make in the coming weeks. For one, the clerk of court’s budget is still 10% higher than it was in 2015. The clerk promised Council last year that her office would enjoy more efficiencies once its new computer system went live, and this would allow a reduction in expenditures. That promise should bear itself out in 2017 expenses.

Also, we need to make sure we are putting enough money into road repairs. Our roads show their warts this time of the year. In the 8 years since I was elected, we have reduced by half the amount of roads in “poor” or “very poor” condition. However, we need to do even better.

But everything else is looking strong. We are paying down debt at a rapid rate (40% reduction since I took office in 2010). Fox Den is cash flowing ($131K in positive EBITDA last year–without considering debt repayment). Our general fund balance exceeds $5 million, which is the highest that it has ever been. Our “excellent” bond rating of AA2 is also higher than it’s ever been.

A lot of people want to talk about this Twitter fiasco. I think the more proper emphasis should be on whether we are doing our jobs to protect taxpayer dollars. That answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

Council will meet next on March 9.