City of Union

The city of Union is considering cuts to its fiscal year 2021-22 general fund budget to meet a projected deficit for its park fund.

The general fund has a projected surplus of $499,560, but the park fund is projected to be $579,280 in the red, Finance Director Heather Keith told board of aldermen members at Monday’s personnel, finance and public works committee meeting.

The city plans to move the general fund surplus to cover the park deficit but still needs to make further cuts.

Two of three police vehicles on the earlier budget “wish list” were suggested cuts, including one $49,000 vehicle and a $31,000 chief’s vehicle. With that $80,000 in cuts, the budget would balance by $280.

Also being considered for removal was a $100,000 project to widen, pave and put in sidewalks on KoKo Beach Road.

The two police vehicles also were proposed for the 2020-21 budget but were removed after concerns about revenue were expressed because of the then-new COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s projected budget cuts were more modest than last year’s, when the park fund had a similar projected deficit but the general fund also had a small deficit projection. Then, a total of $630,800 in cuts were proposed.

Alderman Tom Strubberg asked if the city can use any of the $2.2 million it is expected to get as part of the federal American Rescue Plan to pay for the police cars.

City Administrator Jonathan Zimmermann said the city has received no guidance from the federal Treasury Department on what it can spend the money on. Earlier in the meeting, he went over informal guidance from the Lauber Municipal Law firm that suggested the federal money could be used for water, sewer or broadband projects.

“My guess is we’ll be limited to water and sewer,” Zimmermann said. And because water and sewer are enterprise funds, money cannot be taken from their budgets and spent elsewhere, Zimmermann said.

But he did express hope because of the Franklin County Commission’s plan to provide some law enforcement pay with its remaining money from the 2020 CARES Act.

“If we had more revenue come in we could look at other things that might give us more bang for the buck,” he said.

Some other things the city could use the money for are the hotel and tourism industry, though Union has only one hotel, and paying essential workers, not just city employees, up to $13 per hour, according to the law firm. The money also can be used to pay for lost sales tax, though Union made money year over year in sales taxes last year.

“Again, we don’t know what the guidelines are,” Zimmermann said.

Alderman Karen Erwin expressed frustration over the county commission not reimbursing an earlier request from Union and other cities to pay missed employee time caused by COVID-19.

“If there’s something that we need to be doing to get that moving, then let’s do it,” she said. “I’ll make 100 calls a day to somebody if I have to ... I don’t know about anybody else, but I think it’s ridiculous.”