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Adopt bare-bones budget

Local government budgeting always has been a guessing game.

In Ohio, local entities such as municipal councils must have spending plans for the coming year in place before they have a good understanding of revenue trends for the current one.

COVID-19 has aggravated the dilemma.

Like many other area city and village leaders, Steubenville City Council members have begun discussing next year’s budget, with some acrimony involved.

During a meeting on the issue last week, Councilman Craig Petrella was critical of the plan to handle the matter as an “emergency” — a technical term that allows council to approve action such as a budget without going through three formal readings of the plan.

Holding three readings during pubic meetings is a 30-day process, Finance Director Dave Lewis noted.

Because the budget needs to be approved by Jan. 1 and final numbers on revenue and expenses for the current year will not be ready until early December, “We don’t have time” for three readings, he said.

Aside from the mechanics of approving a budget, Steubenville officials face much more uncertainty than during a normal year. No one can say how the coronavirus epidemic will affect city spending and revenue for the rest of this year — not to mention what impact it will have on city coffers in 2021.

Obviously, with Lewis’ guidance, council members will have to do the best they can to anticipate the unforeseeable.

Another round of economic slowdowns linked to COVID-19 undoubtedly would hit Steubenville’s budget hard.

Given that unpleasant reality, Council members ought to plan for lower than hoped-for revenue, adopting a bare-bones budget for 2021.

Should the situation improve, the budget can be amended and new spending can be built into it early in 2021.

Like so many of their constituents, then, council members should hope for the best — while preparing for the worst.

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