$31M city budget, state tax rules eyed

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com

A $31 million interim budget is in the works to cover Amherst’s expenses in early 2018.

City council took its first look Monday at the numbers, which would keep the city running through March — though much of the cash allotted to accounts will stay intact for the duration of the year.

The figures actually fall about $1.64 million lower than this past year’s interim budget. Many accounts are funded at near-identical levels as in 2017.

There are some sizeable cuts: About $40,000 less has been dedicated to certain police and street maintenance accounts, and about $33,000 less for the building department, for example.

At the same time, there’s about $115,000 less coming in from state public works grants. There should also be reductions in telecommunication costs as administrators prepare to purchase a new phone system, said mayor Mark Costilow.

By contrast, nearly $100,000 extra has been put into the fire apparatus account; the fire department plans to purchase a couple of standard-sized work trucks. And about $45,000 in additional funding has been slipped into meter reading expense accounts while Amherst pays a private firm to collect metrics.

Council is expected to cast a final vote on the budget in the coming weeks. It must be in place before Jan. 1.

Before the end of the year, council must also pass certain changes to its municipal tax code, according to treasurer Richard Ramsey.

Amherst has joined a coalition of cities suing the state over a move — included in the Ohio biennial budget — toward centralized income tax collections.

They argue the state is unconstitutionally trying to cut cities out of the tax collection picture by allowing businesses to file net-profit returns directly with the Ohio Department of Taxation. Then Columbus can return the local share to cities, minus a half-percent fee.

Council opted this fall not to adopt tax changes required by the state. “As it turns out, we’re going to need to at least do these changes now in order to cover our bases,” Ramsey said Monday.

If the city does not by Jan. 1, it’s possible the state could withhold funds or impede Amherst’s ability to level a tax, period.

But winning the lawsuit would mean the city could roll back the changes, the treasurer said.

Councilman Joe Miller said he is disappointed in the General Assembly’s interference with home rule. “I think this is only the beginning,” he said of the state’s attempt to collect income taxes.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk