BARBERTON — After weeks of warning of the potential for layoffs and the city jail closing, Barberton Mayor Bill Judge on Wednesday presented city council with a 2019 budget that staves off those steps.
The $67 million budget, which includes $17 million in the general fund, keeps the jail open, saves the jobs of the jail workers and four firefighters and brings back two reserve officers who were laid off. It doesn’t bring back a majority of the reserve officers who’ve already been laid off, however, and Judge warned next year’s budget is likely to be even more difficult.
“We're looking at operational changes to continue providing the services to residents and businesses,” Judge said.
Barberton has been trying to trim millions from its budget this year to avoid a potential deficit after losing out on $1.5 million in local government funding from the state and the upcoming loss of $1.3 million in income tax revenue when Babcock & Wilcox relocates to Akron this year. The city, which is operating on a temporary budget, has until March 31 to pass the budget.
The deficit was initially announced at around $4 million at the end of last year, but it was lowered to $2.4 million after the city received actual numbers for its budget, Judge said.
During council’s first budget work session Monday night, Judge described how the city plans to close the gap, including moving $115,000 from its emergency reserve fund to the general fund; increasing EMS transport fees by an average of $50 (the first increase in 10 years); and contracting with the Ohio Attorney General’s office for EMS and income tax collection, which Judge said should result in a higher rate of collection.
The city suspended 2 percent raises given to nonbargaining employees, with an expected savings of $27,672 this year. Fire department union members conceded their sick leave incentive for 2019, which allowed them to cash in unused sick time at the end of the year, with an estimated savings of $47,000.
Judge said the city isn’t replacing several employees who resigned or retired. He said there are also several positions within the city that have sat empty, including a human resources coordinator and city engineer. The city is also restructuring municipal building maintenance, among other actions to trim from the budget.
Barberton International Association of Fire Fighters Local 329 President Rick Schwenning said union members, especially the four firefighters who were to be laid off, are relieved that a solution was reached to save the positions after termination was postponed several times.
“I didn't think they [the layoffs] were justified to begin with, so it feels good not having that hanging over those guys' head anymore," Schwenning said.
Sharing jail costs
The seven-cell jail in the basement of Barberton’s municipal building was slated to close last month because of the city’s financial troubles. But the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and Barberton Municipal Court judges raised safety concerns about that decision.
Copley Township administrator Janice Marshall said township trustees on March 4 approved entering into a cost-sharing agreement with Barberton on the jail. She said she expects it to be signed after the end of the month once Barberton sends them the agreement.
Copley Township will pay about $14,500 to use Barberton’s jail for the rest of 2019, which includes about $11,800 for the jail and $2,700 for transportation costs, said Copley Township police chief Michael Mier. Last year, Copley Township paid $5,740, which included about 75 full days in the jail and 17 half-days, charged at a rate of $70 a day and $35 per half-day. Marshall said the figures included 85 prisoners.
This year, each community's payment is based on its jail usage. Mier said Barberton’s usage of the jail is about 84 percent, Copley’s is about 6.5 percent and Norton’s is about 9.25 percent.
According to minutes from a March 4 committee work session of Norton City Council, Norton agreed to participate in a $17,482 agreement with Barberton on the jail, $6,000 more than last year. According to the minutes, Norton has already paid $3,000, so the amount will be reduced to $14,482. New Franklin has also expressed an interest in a cost-sharing agreement, both Mier and Judge said.
Judge noted some bright spots in Barberton’s future: the East New Haven housing development, the $80 million BWX Technologies expansion expected to add more than 80 new jobs and Akron Rubber Development Laboratory setting up shop in the former Gaylord department store — a space B&W previously used.
But he said it’ll likely be five years before Barberton sees any income tax revenue from those projects.
The city is deficit spending and will continue to do so this year, a model of operating Judge said is not sustainable. He noted last year, the city used $800,000 out of its emergency reserve fund, and this year, it’s using $115,000, with $124,000 left in the fund.
Judge said he predicts the 2020 budget will be "a major, major challenge" after B&W moves out by Oct. 1.
Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.