$125K study will analyze Springfield’s finances

Chamber, city seeking savings before any potential levy.

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The Springfield News-Sun provides complete coverage of Springfield government, including recent stories on a citizen-led financial advisory group’s recommendations and a city services survey.

By the numbers

$125,000: Cost of a financial study of Springfield's finances completed by a consultant.

$930,000: Projected Springfield deficit this year.

$18,500: Cost of a survey of Springfield's services completed by a consultant.

The city and the chamber will pay $125,000 for an independent analysis of Springfield’s finances, an effort to identify cost savings before any potential income tax increase would go before voters.

City commissioners are expected to approve the performance study at today’s meeting. The consultant is expected to present the city with options for savings by the end of September — before a possible tax increase would be voted on in November, Deputy City Manager Bryan Heck said.

Commissioners have talked about a tax increase request but have not approved it, Mayor Warren Copeland said.

The study will be completed through a partnership between the city and The Chamber of Greater Springfield, which is putting up $75,000 of the cost. The city will pay the money back to the Chamber with any savings generated from the study, Heck said.

“It’s well worth doing (the study) before we ask people whether or not they want a tax increase to get a sense of whether or not there are other ways to save money and, if so, how much,” Copeland said. “If not, people will have an independent review rather than depending on our word. It’s good to get an objective, outside recommendation.”

The Chamber is happy to put up money for a portion of the study, Board President Jim Lagos said.

“I think this is going to be a very good thing for the whole community,” Lagos said. “Anything we can do to make any government or any private enterprise more efficient contributes to the well-being of the whole community.”

The study will be performed by the Philadelphia-based PFM Group Consulting LLC, which has offices in both Cincinnati and Cleveland. The firm completed similar studies for local governments throughout Ohio, including the city of Hamilton and Hamilton County.

The group will perform a financial analysis and performance audit of city departments and funds, including the general fund, the special police levy fund and the fire enhancement fund, Heck said.

“It will look at those funds and any department of government that’s impacted by those funds,” Heck said.

Last month, members of the Community Financial Advisory Committee said the city should complete an in-depth study of its expenses and possible cuts if it hopes to pass a tax increase in November. The group wanted the process started before a possible tax levy was voted on, Heck said.

“We value the work the committee put in, and we want to move forward with the recommendations they’ve made,” Heck said.

The advisory group was chosen earlier this year to analyze the city’s budget, which faces a projected $930,000 deficit. The panel of business leaders and residents made several recommendations to commissioners in a eight-page report released last month, including increasing the income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.4 percent for five years.

The proposed tax increase would generate an additional $6.6 million per year.

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 in 2016, most of it on personnel costs.

Springfield has faced about $5 million in cuts annually from the state, including the elimination of the estate tax and cuts to local government funds.

The city also recently spent $18,500 for a third-party consultant to perform a survey about city services. It showed Springfield residents are split on an income tax hike, but are more likely to support it when faced with cuts to services — especially police and fire.

The survey, which polled residents through phone and e-mail, asked residents if they would be more supportive of a tax increase if it meant eliminating 10 civilian employees from the police division, or closing the fire station on Commerce Drive or the police substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue. It also polled about eliminating funding to the National Trail Parks and Recreation or abandoning its neighborhood streets program.

Without more money, the city may have to cut valuable services, Copeland said.

“All of this is difficult stuff,” Copeland said. “I’ve been saying for a few years now this is where the state cuts have pushed us, and it’s ugly. I serve on statewide groups and all the other cities in Ohio are hurting, too. The state cuts have hit us all hard.”

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