RIVERSIDE — Riverside is considering cutting infrastructure spending next year to shore up short falls in the city’s budget.
City manager Joshua Rauch said a combination of factors has created a strain on the Riverside’s budget, including the city’s dependence on reserve funds in prior fiscal years, income tax revenue coming in lower than expected due to the pandemic and rising costs for health care and inflation.
He told city council at a Wednesday meeting that if the city does not end 2022 with at least one month of cash in their general fund, the Ohio Auditor could place Riverside under fiscal caution, the lowest form of caution the agency has.
“The best thing that we can do right now to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money is to pull back,” he said.
Riverside voters recently passed an income tax increase of 1% to go directly toward police and fire expenses.
The 1% income tax raise will help alleviate the strain on police and fire budgets, but cannot be used for infrastructure costs.
Rauch presented a plan Wednesday night that included 10 infrastructure projects, including plans to repair the Harshman Road wall, redesign the intersection at Airway Road and work on Spinning Road.
But he suggested the amount of infrastructure planning be cut back and bonds be issued to pay for the rest of the infrastructure spending the city does in 2022. He suggested cutting five infrastructure projects, which would have cost the city less than $170,000 total in 2022, but the costs the city would need to contribute would rise to more than $2.5 million in 2023.
Instead, the city would spend money to give the police and fire departments “breathing room,” Rauch said. The budget for next year avoids drawing on existing public safety fund balances, he said. It does not immediately add police and fire staff in 2022, but Rauch said there is still a possibility of adding staff later on, when the city has collected a year of taxes and knows how much the levy is bringing in.
“I wanted to avoid a situation where it even looked like we were taking extra money that was on the table for public safety and giving it to a general fund purpose,” Rauch said.
Rauch said the police and fire services will still have some money from the general fund. He told city council that there are still opportunities for state or federal dollars in infrastructure spending. But it’s not clear what those opportunities will be yet.
Rauch said the approximately $1.3 million in federal dollars the city got from coronavirus relief funds were going to pay for some firefighter pay and for some water and stormwater infrastructure. The remaining dollars, approximately $274,000, would be reserved, but may end up being spent on stormwater, Rauch said.
Council member Brenda Fry asked if the city’s budget committee, made up of citizens, had seen the budget yet. Rauch said they had not as he had been in a rush to finish the budget and get it in front of council as he was hired about three weeks ago.
The budget committee would be involved throughout next year, he said.
Members of council also complimented Rauch and the city staff on the budget.
“This is a lot to digest, but I think it was well presented,” said mayor Pete Williams.
City council has not yet voted on the plan and will not do so until December, said Katie Lewallen, Riverside’s clerk of council.