Unless there is some emergency during the upcoming fiscal year, Weirton officials should avoid commitments for new projects or even to add funding to existing budget line items. They have little choice but to adopt that strategy.
Preliminary work on a plan for spending during the year that begins July 1 is under way, with the goal of having a proposal for City Council to view by mid-March.
City Manager Valerie Means and Finance Director Tom Maher say the new budget will be a tight one, with slightly less to spend than during the current year. Revenue of about $13 million and an anticipated $460,000 surplus at the end of the current year will have to get the city through the 2013-14 fiscal cycle.
Means and Maher noted preliminary plans call for no new employees and no pay raises. In addition, there will be no money available for the city's finance stabilization account, a kind of rainy day fund set aside for emergencies.
At first glance, that may sound like a blueprint for a status quo budget, but it is not. "Fixed costs" for line items such as insurance will increase as they almost always do. That will leave City Council with less discretionary money.
In other words, city officials will have to pinch pennies to maintain existing programs and services.
Weirton's position is better than some nearby communities, especially those in East Ohio where very real budget cutbacks are being planned. Still, Weirton officials may have trouble making ends meet as the year progresses, and that means they should start with a no-frills budget.