Selling assets to raise money for day-to-day operations is not a sustainable municipal budgeting strategy, but Steubenville officials are considering it. While the city's fiscal morass may be so bad it requires such action in the short term, a more realistic plan is needed for the future.
City officials are struggling to get the current year's budget in balance. When and if they manage that, they will have to turn to 2013.
One step being considered is sale of nine acres of riverfront property at the city marina. "The site has everything a developer would look for, with access to river, rail and highways," explained city Manager Cathy Davison. She added one prospective buyer already has seen the land.
It may be sale of the land would not reduce recreational opportunities appreciably. Davison has said the nine acres in question are "under used."
If a developer buys the property, it could help Steubenville in several ways. First, of course, cash from the sale could be used to help balance the budget. But if a new business opens at the site, jobs would be created and the city could net new, ongoing revenue.
But do the math in terms of whether selling assets such as the marina land is a long-term answer to budget gaps. No one thinks that.
At some point, city officials must get revenue and spending in balance on a reliable, multi-year plan.
Steubenville officials are considering a "townhall" meeting early next year, to discuss the community's budget woes with city residents and business owners. No doubt Davison and City Council members will have ideas for discussion, in the hope some consensus can be reached among Steuben-ville "stakeholders." And no doubt some of those ideas will involve tough choices and departures from longstanding traditions.
But as city officials are coming to understand, such difficult decisions will have to be made - and the sooner that happens, the more quickly Steubenville's budget can be gotten back on track and, hopefully, kept there.