Wednesday, June 23, 2004

City may raise tickets, fees

Covington's proposed $40.9M budget faces $1.3M shortfall

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - Parking tickets and occupational licenses could soon cost more under Covington's proposed $40.9 million "bare bones" operating budget.

Boosting parking tickets from $15 to $25 and annual business license fees from $50 to $75 or $100 are just a few of the suggested fee increases that Covington officials will consider for the fiscal year starting July 1.

This summer, Covington City Commission must choose between various fee increases and cost-cutting measures such as a 10 percent cut in employee overtime, Finance Director Bob Due said. Without those adjustments, the city is looking at a $1.3 million shortfall.

"Our problem is not a revenue problem," Due told city officials Tuesday. "It's on the expenditure side."

Through May of this year, payroll taxes, which make up 46 percent of Covington's operating budget, rose 4.4 percent over the previous year, and they're projected to grow 4 percent in the 2004-05 budget, Due said. Total general fund revenues also are up 6.6 percent from this time last year.

But on the expenditure side, Covington is looking at double-digit increases in everything from workers compensation (20 percent), state pensions (22 percent) and health insurance (11 percent), Due said. During the past two years, he said the city has had to pay nearly $2 million more for the state pension plan and health insurance.

"We've got to find ways to absorb these costs through cost-saving measures, as well as taking a look at the fees we charge," Due said. Some of the fees the city hasn't raised in at least 10 years include parking tickets, 2:30 a.m. liquor licenses, regular beer and alcohol licenses and occupational license fees.

Officials also will be scrutinizing everything from equipment purchases to a possible reduction in seasonal and co-op workers.

On the plus side, the proposed budget calls for no tax increases or staff reductions, Due said.

The new budget also provides better accountability for spending for economic development and the emergency dispatch center, Due said. In the past, the cost of those programs was split among two funds, "and you didn't get a good feel of the total cost to operate those departments," he said. For the upcoming budget, both programs will be included in the general fund for better cost accountability.

Covington City Commission is tentatively scheduled to vote on the budget at a special meeting June 29. The vote would follow a 6 p.m. public hearing to get feedback on a redevelopment plan for the Austinburg neighborhood.


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