With Thursday’s Delaware City Council session marking the final meeting of 2018, the first item of business was to approve the city’s 2019 budget.
Appropriations for the 2019 budget total nearly $119.7 million, with $23,975,982 of that included in the city’s general fund. The largest appropriations in the general fund are for general administration ($6,090,255) and the police department ($9,105,357).
The total appropriations for the 2019 year are up over $4 million from last year’s number, which was just shy of $115 million.
In addition to the general fund, funds with appropriations totaling $5 million or more include the Fire and EMS Operations Fund ($11,182,079), Capital Improvements Fund ($7,667,331), Glenn Road South Construction Fund ($10,138,632), Water Fund ($6,336,213), Sewer Fund ($7,075,047) and Self Insurance Fund ($6,472,000).
While the budget was ultimately passed, it was not before some council members expressed concerns about whether or not the budget was truly balanced. The 2019 budget shows expenditures exceeding revenues in the range of $250,000.
Councilwoman Lisa Keller, speaking during the second reading of the budget at the Dec. 10 meeting, stated, “I feel personally uncomfortable with approving a budget that shows expenditures that exceed our revenues.”
“This balanced budget issue has come up several times in the almost 30 years I have been on city council, and we spend a lot of time debating what a balanced budget is,” Finance Director Dean Stelzer said at the Dec. 10 meeting.
Stelzer explained the policies that were put into place in years past regarding fund balances to ensure the city will survive should there be any sort of downturns or unforeseen adversity.
Keller both elaborated and simplified her stance, saying, “I’m not saying we’re in any kind of dire straights in terms of not being able to pay the bills. Mine is just a purely philosophical position that when we begin the budget process, we say, ‘How many beans do we have to work with?’ And the current budget is showing more beans than we have, tapping into our spare beans.”
She added, “We don’t have the funding to support the current budget that is in front of us without tapping into our fund balance to make that work if everything happens the way it’s written on paper … we should start with a solid plan that doesn’t spend more than we anticipate to earn.”
In Stelzer’s response to Keller’s concerns, he pointed out there are many factors that make up the end numbers and must be looked at with a broader scope than just the expenditure and revenue numbers. Stelzer stated there is a legal definition of a balanced budget which the 2019 budget meets, and he pointed out he has to submit the budget to the county budget commission for review and certification that the budget’s expenditures do not exceed available resources, which he said do not when factoring in the carry-over balance.
At Thursday’s final reading, Keller doubled down on her opposition to approving a budget that, on paper, shows more expenditures than money coming in. She pointed out the budgets approved in years past that had all been balanced in that sense and said, “Every single year, we have somehow come up with a balanced budget. And if we were able to do it during and after a recession … why can’t we now?”
Councilman Chris Jones agreed with Keller in the sense that the budget shouldn’t show expenditures exceeding revenues, regardless of what other factors might go into balancing a budget. He pointed out the budget is displayed on the city’s website for the public to see and try to make sense of on their own without the in-depth details.
“They don’t have Dean (Stelzer) with them to explain (the details),” Jones said. “The system is going to say they’re spending more than they’re bringing in.”
Despite the concerns of Keller and Jones, the budget was ultimately approved with a 5-2 vote.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.