Bellaire approves proposed budget for 2014

BELLAIRE – The village of Bellaire recently approved its proposed 2014 budget and sent it on to Belmont County Auditor Andy Sutak’s office.

“This is a wish list, in a sense,” said village clerk Tom Sable. “This is a proposed budget. We’ll have our hearing set up with him and the budget commission at the courthouse in August. There, he will review our budget and requests and tell us what, if any, money this year may be available from the state coming down through local government funding.”

Sable noted fiscal year 2014 is one he and many other municipal finance officers have been watching and waiting for.

“If local government funding is eliminated or continues to reduce, it will cripple small communities all over the state,” Sable said. “We’ve lost $240,000 out of our general fund budget. Even though tax collections are running up, there is no way to come up with that type of gain.”

Overall, the only problem area on the Bellaire budget is its general fund. Of course, that’s where vital services like police departments are funded. That’s a department that already has enough issues of a financial nature. It cannot afford more ill news.

“The police department is funded out of the general fund,” Sable told council. “That’s the fund that is taking the hit from Columbus. Our general fund, dollar wise, is continuing to shrink. Our problems, however, are not.

“Crime is still here. … it’s everywhere; not just in Bellaire, but in other communities as well.”

Chief Kovalyk and his officers are fighting an uphill battle every day, and that’s before they hop into their cruisers and set off to patrol the town.

His department is short on officers in general. They’ve lost officers through attrition as veteran officers retire and are not replaced. Kovalyk noted that a fulltime position has sat unfilled since Aug. 13, 2012.

He’d like to see that filled. He’d also like to see a raise for his officers.

It goes beyond just a supervisor looking out for his charges or a simple request for more money. The Bellaire Police Department has received one raise – one – in the last decade.

“A raise is needed for our officers,” Kovalyk said at the most recent council meeting. “It is beyond being overdue.”

Most on council would agree with Kovalyk. New officers and better-paid officers would be a boon to the department, which routinely sees its chief pulling multiple hours of overtime to cover shifts and potential gaps in coverage because there is no one else available.

In general, the only way to increase the general fund is to increase taxes in the form of a police levy or an overall increase to the village’s income tax, or to cut spending.

That’s what spelled doom for the Bellaire Fire Department and why the village now pays $70,000 annually to contract with Neffs Fire Department for fire and EMS protection.

“At 70,000, we couldn’t afford to fund our own department, so we have to contract it out,” Sable said.

And it’s not just the police department needing additional funding.

Dan Marling, the village administrator, told council that the municipal building’s elevator had to be repaired recently to the tune of $5,000. The roof on the building, which will begin being repaired in phases starting in 2014, will be costly. Both of those costs must also be covered by the general fund.

Given the difficulties the Bellaire School District has experienced in getting a levy passed, the village likely won’t attempt an increase to the income tax or a police-specific levy.

Those have also been tried in the past.

“We’ve tried police levies in the past. Maybe we didn’t educate people well enough,” Sable said. “It’s not meant to scare people, but a lack of money will eventually result in a lack of services.”