Ferry takes cautious approach to budget

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The city of Martins Ferry held a budget hearing Thursday with Belmont County Auditor Andrew Sutak. The outlook for next year calls for caution and close management.

Sutak pointed out that Local Government Funds will be 151,009.09.

He noted that the LGF for Martins Ferry, like all political subdivisions, will not be cut further.

“For 2012 and 2013 they were cut 25 percent for those two years,” Sutak said. “For the city of Martins Ferry, that 50-percent cut over the two year span equaled to be about $150,000 less.”

He added that no further cuts currently appear on the horizon.

“Every year we’ll probably have to look at this to see if the state cuts anymore local government funding,” he said. “What makes it hard to budget is that 50-percent cut of local government funding.”

In addition, this will be the last year of receiving estate tax. The amount is still pending and the figure may be subject to change from the state.

Another factor is the Homestead Exemptions, which will change throughout the state. Sutak is pressing for everyone 65 or older as of Dec. 31 to fill a Homestead Exemption application by June 1. After this year, it will be income and age based or income and disability based.

“If you’re 65 as of Dec. 31 this year, you’ll be grandfathered in with the age, not the income,” Sutak said. “After Jan. 1 of 2014, you must meet age 65, permanently disabled, and an income of $30,000 less husbands and spouse.

City officials noted the high potential for development in the area. Sutak noted that property had been sold to a company on the river, but at the present time work has not started. The steel mill may also be looking at options and a limestone company may further expand.

Martins Ferry’s representatives did not report any new grants they are applying for, although they are continually looking.

The auditor also reviewed the city’s oil and gas lease. At the present, there is no well that has produced oil as of yet. They added that the street department was facing a tight budget, along with while every department.

Another uncertainty is the question of health insurance, which will be affected by health care reform.

“Health insurance is an unknown animal until everything kicks into play,” Sutak said.

He added that while the state has increased sales tax from 7 percent to 7.25 percent, the additional quarter-percent will deliver no new funding back to any political subdivision from the state.

“This year we’re real close, but what worries me is that we really don’t have much of a carryover,” said Finance Committee Member Robert Hunker, adding that a solid carryover amount has not yet been set. Three pay periods remain. He noted that the city auditor has given a similar analysis. “There’s no extra money.”

He added that the LGF cuts were a strain.

“We would have liked to have had more, but at least that number didn’t go down,” Hunker said, adding that factors such as health insurance increases are worrisome. “Across the state of Ohio it could be a 41-percent increase. That’s scary for all of us.

“Right now at least we didn’t get any real bad news,” he said. “Things are real tight. Right now everybody’s budget’s here in Belmont County is tight, and we all know that, and it’s just a matter of working with what you have.”

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