Thursday, July 24, 2014

Local government leaders aim for smart budgeting

By VICKIE MOSS, Herald Public Affairs Editor | 11/10/2009

When Shelli Crowley, Ottawa, drops off her utility bill payment at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., she doesn’t see a line of people waiting for service.

She doesn’t see any indication the city has cut back on expenses because of a slow economy.

When Shelli Crowley, Ottawa, drops off her utility bill payment at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., she doesn’t see a line of people waiting for service.

She doesn’t see any indication the city has cut back on expenses because of a slow economy.

“I haven’t noticed anything,” she said.

That’s exactly what city and county officials planned for when they worked on budgets for 2010. Ottawa approved a budget with a tax increase of just under a mill — .997-mill— or 2.39 percent. Franklin County approved a .546-mill increase, or less than 1 percent.

“We want to be ahead of the curve and preserve services for our citizens,” Richard Nienstedt, Ottawa’s city administrator, said.

That means the city made changes that may not be quite as obvious to citizens, like reducing travel, not filling vacant positions or delaying some improvement projects.

The county has taken similar action, Lisa Johnson, county administrator, said. The county has not filled vacant positions for non-emergency personnel. The county also has cut all seasonal help and non-regular part-time positions.

The county also is looking to technology to help ease the burden. That includes sharing some equipment and offering more services online, like a program that lets people look up property tax information on new vehicles, Johnson said.

The county will continue to explore ways to make more services available online, Johnson said. That could include such information as register of deeds records, property tax information, planning and zoning maps and videos from county commission meetings.

“How can we do what we’re doing but make it more efficient?” Johnson said.

People could notice some changes, though, Nienstedt said. Because of fewer staff, there may be times when people have to wait longer for customer service in the front office. However, the city also implemented an online bill payment system that gives utility customers another, faster payment option.

Some people also may notice a delay when it comes to street repair. The city has continued some street repairs, but the scope of such projects was scaled down, Nienstedt said.

Officials and staff across the county are watching the economy to see what comes next, officials say.

“We will get back to a good economy,” Nienstedt said. “I’m proud our commission, our staff and our employees aren’t just sitting there wringing our hands. They’re saying let’s deal with the issues, let’s deal with the changes.

“We’ll be stronger because of it.”

comments powered by Disqus