Steubenville residents upset about cuts in city spending for purposes such as fire protection may have to brace themselves for worse to come. Budget forecasts discussed at a City Council meeting Tuesday are, in a word, grim.
Councilman David Lalich, chairman of the Finance Committee, reported predictions of a $1 million deficit in 2014 and a $2.18 million shortfall the following year.
Finance Director Alyssa Kerker said work on the 2014 budget will begin soon, with a forecast extending to 2015. "We will be preparing a budget where everything is on the table for cost savings," Kerker added.
Everything, she said.
As if what Lalich and Kerker had to say was not worrisome enough, Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci cautioned council members should "expect changes in our financial forecast."
Public perception of the challenge may be slanted inaccurately by the fact the city probably will enjoy a budget surplus at the end of the current fiscal year. But as Mucci explained, that will be because of two one-time occurrences - a $162,776 estate tax settlement from the state and $239,390 in reimbursements from the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, for overcharges in the past.
That money will be used up quickly, however. The bottom line is that within two years, the city faces a budget shortfall of more than $2 million.
While spending cuts during the past couple of years have been controversial, those necessary to keep the 2015 budget balanced will be viewed by some as catastrophic.
Mucci and council members are right to begin planning for the massive cuts now, however. They will not be palatable, but the sooner city officials prepare for them, the easier it will be to make the cuts in an orderly fashion. The only alternative appears to be tax increases - and that is even less appealing than reductions in city services.