Delaware City Council voted to approve the creation of a Financial Review Task Force during Monday’s meeting. The task force, which is comprised of nine community members, will be tasked with helping the city to address looming financial shortfalls identified during the latest Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) approved last October.
The nine members selected to serve on the task force are Michael Guzzo, Maura Donahue, Liz Owens, Ben Kelly, Shaun Laird, Zach Price, Lonny Ransaw, Richard Hicks and Jonathan Connar. Brian Smith has been appointed to serve as an alternate on the task force.
The 2022-26 CIP shows general fund totals of $1,059,154 and $1,705,238 available for capital improvement projects in 2022 and 2023 before those totals decline to a deficit of $2,966,979 in 2024, $5,296,005 in 2025 and $6,279,709 in 2026. Coming out of the planning and approval of the CIP, City Manager Tom Homan discussed the idea of establishing the task force to help the city plan for capital improvement needs in the years to come.
“At the time, the recommendation really centered on not so much the city’s current financial condition but, going forward, taking a look at our expenditures, or revenue, our capital improvement program, our transportation needs, and really just allowing a citizens group to assist City Council in that process,” Homan said.
In 2018, with the city of Powell facing its own shortfalls in future capital improvement funds, a similar financial review task force was created to review the city’s finances and make suggestions for future capital improvement needs. The task force spent six months conducting its review and discussing options before making its recommendations to the city in June of 2018.
Ultimately, the Powell task force recommended an increase to the city’s income tax rate, which at the time was the lowest rate in central Ohio, as the only recourse to be able to keep up with the city’s ever-increasing infrastructure needs.
“This is an approach that other communities have used, and it allows for another set of eyes to ask questions, learn about how we function, and then make recommendations,” Homan said.
Homan added the task force’s review will be aided by a fiscal analysis of the city that was recently completed by Bill Lafayette, an economist based in central Ohio. The analysis will be reviewed by the city’s Finance Committee next week.
Councilwoman Lisa Keller, speaking on a set of city goals each council member was asked to submit following last month’s annual council retreat, said she is finding it difficult to identify goals without knowing if or how the city’s core issues regarding its finances can be addressed.
“Part of the struggle I am having is that I’m taking my future planning down two different paths, and I think it is important that we communicate this with this Financial Review Task Force because we’re looking at this structural imbalance in our capital improvement plan,” Keller said. “We’re looking at a negative fund balance by 2024 and it’s like this giant elephant sitting in the room of any future planning. It’s the question of, ok, is that elephant still sitting there (in future years)?
“I almost need two different sets of goals because one is going to be very austerity-minded and one is if we solve this issue we have. This financial task force is going to be very pivotal in what the future of this city looks like, and I really think that they need to come out of this with kind of three different options for us.”
Keller said the options include a potential solution that’s “going to need to be somewhere along the lines of more revenue,” another solution the city has not yet thought of, or a more “drastic” solution of what’s going to be cut in the budget if additional revenue isn’t identified.
“New goals and initiatives won’t even be a thing, there’s no point in even talking about that with option three,” Keller said, adding that the drastic option of budget cuts “seems more possible now than it did several months ago” with various factors such as inflation exacerbating the burden.
The task force will spend the next six months conducting a “high-level review of the city’s financial condition,” according to Homan, including meeting with Finance Director Justin Nahvi and the various department directors before reporting back to council with recommendations in the fall.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.