WILMINGTON — Wilmington Auditor David Hollingsworth expressed concerns that the city’s currently projected spending may reduce its carryover enough that the city’s credit rating may suffer.
Hollingsworth said the city had debt that would be refinanced in 2017, at which point “it would not shock me if Moody’s didn’t downgrade our credit rating because of reduction in the carryover balance.”
“I’m going to have to have a conversation with Moody’s during this next year, and they’re going to ask some very pointed questions,” Hollingsworth continued. “Quite honestly, right now I’m not sure how I’m going to answer them.”
In answering a question from Wilmington resident Michael Mandelstein, Hollingsworth said a downgraded credit rating would raise interest rates at which the city could borrow money.
Another resident, Stephen Sawzin, suggested the city look into bonds held by the citizens themselves.
Hollingsworth said the days when council insisted on a 25 percent carryover are gone.
He said the city’s general fund started 2015 with almost $2.7 million before revenues and expenses. It ended the year with less than $1.8 million. Worse, 2016’s budget projects a deficit between $1.3 and $1.4 million.
That would leave the city with little more than $400,000 in reserves, though Hollingsworth said that he wouldn’t anticipate the city spending all of its projected expenditures.
Even so, Hollingsworth said, “that doesn’t leave us with a lot of cushion.”
Compounding Hollingsworth’s concerns is the fact that the raises for police and fire officials weren’t included in the budget council passed for 2016.
Even if the city can cut expenditures to a zero-deficit, Hollingsworth said, it wouldn’t have any money to take on projects like street repaving.
At-large council member Mark McKay, who now serves as finance chair, said the committee’s top priority would be the city’s carryover. He said the committee would work closely with the administration to try and determine its direction.
Thursday, and at previous council sessions, Hollingsworth said several funds with their own property tax levies – police and streets, for instance – also receive income tax revenues from the general fund to pay for operations. Those transfers compound the general fund’s issues.
As an exception, Hollingsworth pointed out that the fire department generates the extra money it needs by having contracts to provide fire service to other areas and through EMS billings. However, Hollingsworth said EMS billing revenues decreased last year.
Additionally, Union Township paid the city its capital funds as part of its contract with the Wilmington Fire Department. That fund was paid in full in 2015 and won’t be part of future payments.
• Tabled a discussion on amending the city’s hotel lodging tax. A proposed amendment from late last year suggests reallocating 15 percent of the tax revenues from the Clinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau to Wilmington Parks and Recreation. Currently the CVB receives 90 percent. The current and proposed legislation levies a 10 percent administrative fee that goes to the city’s general fund.
During public comment, Wilmington resident Paul Hunter, who had spoken in favor of the reallocation, recommended a compromise. He suggested taking 10 percent from the CVB and nine percent from the administrative fee and giving that to the parks department.
The discussion was tabled while the city tries to schedule a meeting with CVB officials and Executive Director Debbie Stamper.
• In his first address to city council as mayor, John Stanforth introduced himself to council members, honored former council members Rob Jaehnig and Loren L. Stuckert Sr. and said he had no intention of closing the Wilmington Fire Department. Stanforth said rumors alleging he would close the fire department weren’t true.
• Stanforth also said the city is posting for a transportation director and a streets department superintendent. He said the deadline for him to make a decision is by the end of January.
• Received a report from Tax Commissioner Marque Jones showing the city collected more than $4.5 million in income taxes, up 3.6 percent from less than $4.4 million in 2014. The report projects 2016 collections to be $4.5 million. Hollingsworth said about half of those gains were lost in the form of refunds issued.
• Signed a letter of support for park projects in Wilmington to be sent to Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger. The letter says city parks are a community cornerstone and says funding through the state’s capital improvement bill for local projects would help those parks.
• Appointed Mark McKay as president pro tempore of council.
• Appointed former Fourth Ward council representative Marian Miller as clerk of council. Miller is also Stanforth’s executive assistant.
• Confirmed appointment of Laura Gibson as assistant director of law for the city.
• Reduced a 2015 appropriation for insurance by $28,129.52. That money will now go to the city’s reserves.
• Received a $1,000 gift from DaVita Dialysis for the Wilmington Transit Department.
• Received a $5,400 gift from the Max and Pauline Shine Estate for the Fire and EMS Department.
• Authorized Wilmington Safety and Service Director Brian Shidaker, who was the city’s law director, to advertise for bids and contract the construction of the first phase of the Airborne Road Connector project. Shidaker said he’d approach council before contracting for construction. As previously reported, the road would connect State Route 68 to Cuba Road near Ahresty.
• Requested advance payment of settlements from Clinton County. Mark McKay said the request is usually entered each year and ensures the city’s finances run smoothly.
• Received public comments from Stephen Sawzin, Vince Holmes and Michael Mandelstein urging city officials not to bring back recently defeated G-1 zoning legislation. Holmes also asked council and the mayor to remove the ordinance that created the zone. In November, a map that would have made that legislation take effect in certain “gateway” areas was voted down.
• Received public comments from Jim Fife, Mike McCarty and Scott Holmer, who asked Wilmington residents to consider them when voting for Clinton County commissioners. Fife is running against incumbent Kerry Steed and Dean Feldmeyer. McCarty and Holmer are running against Terry Habermehl, Gregory Grove and Brenda Woods for the seat being vacated by Clinton County Commissioner Mike Curry. All except Feldmeyer are Republicans; Feldmeyer is a Democrat.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-556-5766, or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.