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St. C. looks at budget for 2021

T-L File Photo St. Clairsville Council President Jim Velas conducts a meeting. Council heard updates Tuesday from the finance director and a visiting clerk.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — City Council heard the first reading of the proposed budget Tuesday and made temporary appropriations for expenditures through 2021.

The budget must be approved by April 1.

Council also heard from Finance Director Annette Williams and a visiting clerk, who addressed several questions council members had raised during the prior meeting.

Melanie Smith, who was hired to assist Williams’ office as a visiting clerk, described her work for the city from December through March 31 for $35 per hour. She has been paid $6,332 so far.

Since being appointed finance director in March, Williams has dealt with a plethora of issues including handling COVID-19 funding, training new staff and day-to-day operations, as well as providing assistance and training. Smith commended Williams for recognizing her office needed assistance.

“It was great that she did and got assistance quickly, so that things didn’t get out of hand. I’ve seen (situations) where it got so far out of hand that you couldn’t bring it back in,” Smith said, adding some of her initial work included the utilities and recreation center accounts and general bank accounts.

“Currently all your bank accounts are done and over with as of Dec. 31, reconciled and ready to go,” she said, adding the reports are also prepared to go to the auditor. “Which will save you time and money on the audit itself.”

In addition, Smith worked on a detailed comprehensive budget for the city and involved the department heads and city officials, both those of longstanding and newer officials such as Williams and Service and Safety Director Jeremy Greenwood.

Afterward, Greenwood said this will prove invaluable as the city looks to future needs and makes plans.

“We’re trying to save money everywhere we can,” he said.

“With all their help … we put a package in front of you that’s going to give you way more detail than you’ve seen in the past,” Smith said.

Other new additions include a debt payment schedule and proposals for fund transfers. She said the council members would have more detailed status reports pertaining to appropriations, revenues and payments.

One issue Smith said had needed further clarity was the apparently overloaded line items.

“You have a lot of stuff crammed in just a few line items that really doesn’t give a good picture of what you’re spending the money on,” she said, adding the line items and their contents have been reorganized. “So you can have a clear picture and make decisions based on what’s really going on.”

Smith also commended the dedication and cooperation of the city officials.

“Working with your staff has been fantastic. You have the most cooperative group of managers I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “Everyone … came together to build this budget.”

In answer to some questions from council, Smith said she has 43 years of experience including more than 20 years as an auditor for the state. She has worked for the city about twice a week since December.

She added that her work is mostly complete but suggested the city might wish for her to look over some funds that are “stagnant” and not being utilized.

“You have three big ones that are just sitting there,” she said.

Later, she said the community housing, downtown renovation and another fund have not been used for some time. This may free up about $307,000 in possible grant funding to be used on other projects, but Greenwood said the city would need to determine the origin of the funds and if they had to be spent on any specific areas.

“Until we research those, we’re not going to know,” Williams said.

Councilwoman Beth Oprisch said there had been little time for cross-training of new staff members in the finance office.

Smith said the COVID-19 coronavirus delayed and complicated the process. Williams’ office processed almost $500,000 in COVID-19 funds.

“It’s been a whirlwind of a year, but things are going to get easier and better,” Williams said.

Afterward, Williams said the budget for this year will be $15,466,562 available for expenditures compared to last year’s budget of $20,222,822.

“That’s all based on cash flow,” Williams said. “We got COVID (assistance) money last year, but we’re not sure if we’ll get it this year, so it’s not incorporated in the budget. Our finances aren’t going down, it’s just that we’re appropriating less money for expenditures. … Your appropriations are based on your anticipated revenue and your cash carryover.”

She said expenditures were reduced 5 percent from last year, but there had also been added COVID-19 funding.

Some anticipated expenses for 2021 include hiring a new full-time police officer to join the nine current full-time officers at a cost of about $90,000 including salary and benefits, and the purchase of a new cruiser for $53,000.

Other expenses include meter upgrades and possibly two new city vehicles, as well as some electrical upgrades to some city-owned buildings.

Williams said her department is also more prepared should more coronavirus assistance funding be available.

“We’ll have more experience on how to spend it and the bookkeeping end of it,” she said. “They said we had to spend all that money by the end of the year, and we spent it all. … Hopefully we’ll get better guidelines.”

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