Planning Ahead In Martins Ferry

Martins Ferry city government dodged a fiscal bullet this year. Municipal officials cannot count on that happening in the future, however.

City Council members approved an $11 million budget for fiscal 2018 during their meeting last week. Helping keep that budget balanced — as well as avoiding trouble for fiscal 2017 — is a windfall in the form of $633,000 from leasing city-owned mineral rights.

About half that had to be used to keep the fiscal 2017 budget balanced. The remainder is being carried over to fiscal 2018, City Auditor Rita Randall noted.

Cash carryovers, too often referred to inaccurately as “surpluses,” are common in local government budgets. They represent money from a previous year not spent then, but moved over for the next 12 months. A variety of factors, including something as simple as whether a few big checks are written on the last day of a fiscal year or the first one of a new accounting period, can create the impression a city has lots of money to spend.

That simply is not the case in Martins Ferry, as municipal officials are well aware.

Had the city not received $633,000 for the mineral rights deal, some funds would have been in danger of being in the red at the end of the year.

Some ongoing help will be available to the city, in the form of about $320,000 a year through a new tax voters approved to bolster police department finances.

Still, Martins Ferry’s fiscal situation is not good. Without the lease funds, it might have taken severe cuts in services to balance both the fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018 budgets.

At least the lease money gives city officials some breathing room. Instead of slashing services in an emergency environment, they can plan prudently to keep finances on an even keel. They should take the precious months of relief provided by the lease money to do just that.