Report: Sluggish economy affects Amherst’s finances

By Jason Hawk -

The poor economy has adversely affected Amherst’s income tax collections but the city managed to improve its net position in 2017 by about $160,000 — a little more than a quarter percent.

That’s among the findings of a comprehensive annual financial report submitted by auditor Derek Pittak earlier this summer and released Aug. 30.

Amherst earned the Auditor of State Award for the report, which gives an overview of financial trends for the last calendar year.

Key highlights include:

• Total assets increased by roughly $3.5 million, or 4.6 percent from 2016.

• Net capital assets improved by about $398,500 or 0.8 percent.

• Outstanding long-term liabilities increased by $3.4 million, or 19.6 percent.

Those numbers were impacted by several big projects and purchases — for example, cash on hand to lease purchase new water and electric meters, the purchase of a fire truck, Ohio Public Works Commission loans, and street improvement fund levy collections.

But one of the most important figures reflects a $420,000 (7.3 percent) drop in municipal income tax revenue last year.

The audit notes that a little more than half of the city’s general operating cash comes from income taxes, but only about 20 percent of residents pay it in full. The overwhelming majority are forgiven the bulk of local income taxes because they already pay in another city where they work.

Among those who do pay Amherst’s full 1.5 percent income tax, collections are affected by the sluggish economy, the report said. “This issue is being addressed by the city attempting to diversify the local economy,” Pittak wrote.

The financial report notes that the Nordson Corporation’s operations seem to have stabilized, despite prior concerns about major employee cutbacks.

Advance Pierre Foods is also a large manufacturer, increasing its employment roster from 101 to about 570 over the past several years.

Amherst’s hospital, which had experienced financial difficulties, has stabilized since being taken over in 2014 by University Hospitals and has an employee count of about 250, the report said.

Property taxes are much more reliable than income taxes but don’t make up nearly as much of the budget, while budget cuts in Columbus have eaten away at state funding.

“Miscellaneous forms of income are becoming more important in the current economic climate,” the report said. “The city has been diligent recently about making efforts to see that charges for services we provide, particularly to other governmental entities, completely cover the cost of providing those services. Efforts have been made to adjust the pool membership fees to meet the cost of operating the pool. The fire department has negotiated new contracts to cover our cost of providing fire protection in the township.”

Meanwhile, grants have helped fund projects for parks, police, city hall renovation, beautification, and downtown revitalization.

The city entered 2018 in a positive cash position with total equity in pooled cash and investments of nearly $17.4 million.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk