22 selected to examine Springfield’s finances

11:00 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 Politics

The city of Springfield has selected 22 community members to participate in the Community Financial Advisory Committee to help analyze the city’s budget, which has a projected $930,000 deficit this year.

The committee consists of business leaders and community members, many of which have never worked with the city manager’s office, said Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller.

The committee will examine how the city manages its budget and discuss any suggestions the committee has on what the city can do differently, he said. They’ll also discuss revenues, expenses and examine whether the city should ask voters for a tax increase in November.

“It’s really just to get another set of eyes on our financial issues from individuals who are not typically involved with the process,” Bodenmiller said.

The city projects it will collect about $37.9 million in general fund revenues this year, including about $28.9 million in income taxes. But it also estimates it will spend about $38.9 million this year, most of it — $31.2 million — on personnel and health insurance costs.

Springfield has recently lost about $5 million in annual revenue from the state through cuts to the local government fund and the elimination of the estate tax, among others. It’s also expected to lose more revenue from changes to the municipal income tax code, which will fully come into effect in 2017.

The goal was to bring 15 to 25 community members together as part of the committee, Bodenmiller said. Nearly everyone suggested for the committee accepted the invitation, but a few could not commit for personal reasons.

“I wanted a different set of people than what I typically deal with on a day-to-day basis,” he said, “but I also wanted them to be extremely bright, informed and have a strong business sense. … I tried to be as diverse as possible in terms of types of business, types of individuals and somewhat representative of the city.”

Bodenmiller also wanted a group willing to listen and ready to challenge and question city staff decisions, he said.

“We’ve found a group willing to do that,” he said.

The group has met twice and will meet about four more times between now and the end of March, Bodenmiller said. The committee is expected to present its findings to city commissioners in April. Some suggestions may take longer to research, he said.

City commissioners made recommendations on who to select for the committee, but the meetings are not public because the citizens were asked to be advisers to Bodenmiller, not through the commission — meaning no commission action was needed, he said.

“This group is truly advisory,” Bodenmiller said. “They have no decision-making authority.”

Any documents created by the group will be public record, he said.

The group was originally named the Blue Ribbon Financial Advisory Committee, but the name was changed after citizens raised concerns about the name implying the group was more elite than others in the community.

“That was not the intention at all,” Bodenmiller said. “I don’t want the name to be offensive or detract from what we’re trying to do.”

The city recently completed Lean Six Sigma training last year that helped save money in some areas and make services more efficient in other areas.

Larry Ricketts, a former county employee who served in several roles, including zoning inspector and disaster services coordinator, was honored to be chosen to the committee. He’s pleased the city is looking for feedback from the community, rather than just making cuts like he said Ohio did to municipalities.

The committee is a diverse group, he said, which will help make decisions for the long-term future.

“We’ve all got something at stake here,” Ricketts said. “We all want the city to thrive, and we want our services.”

Member James Bacon, a former Springfield City School District board member, was also honored to be named to the committee.

“It’s a very interesting concept,” Bacon said. “I’ll do whatever possible to move the city forward.”

The first two meetings have been spent learning about the city’s services, he said.

Finances are a problem many government entities are facing at every level, he said.

“It’s about trying to find creative ways to help meet the need,” Bacon said.