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Candidates spar over city budget surplus
Aug 19, 2005 12:00 am
August 16, 2005
City mayoral candidates continued sparring Monday over the existence of a city budget surplus with both sides' claims further confused by city staff refusing to confirm numbers used by the campaigns.
The mayoral campaigns of Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer and incumbent Mayor Don Fox have exchanged a series of accusations in recent weeks in newspapers and direct mail pieces over the validity of claims by Farmer the city "overspent" its budget last year.
Farmer claims city government spent $3.2 million over its budget on "crisis management," namely a capital project to clean up a joint city/county landfill.
As part of that claim, Farmer maintained city government was left without a budget surplus.
"It's real simple. The city overspent its operating budget as a result of the additional appropriations," Farmer said in a written statement released Monday. "To say otherwise is simply not being politically honest with voters."
Farmer's view of the city's budget numbers have come under attack from Fox and members of the Lebanon City Council, who maintain Lebanon ended the 2004-05 fiscal year with a $500,000 budget surplus.
Fox and members of the Council also pointed out Farmer voted for the budget he is now attacking.
"A little over $3 million came out of the General Fund Reserve," Fox said. "The reserve fund is made up of accrued surpluses … Mr. Farmer thought they (the expenses) were right, too, because he voted for them … This is all political rhetoric, and it needs to be put to bed."
However, city budget documents offered to The Lebanon Democrat by both campaigns – though they bare the same date stamp – reflect different budget figures.
Both campaigns delivered a document to the newspaper titled "Budget Report General Fund As of June 27, 2005."
Fox's version of the document showed an actual city funding surplus of more than $735,000 and revenue that exceeded budget expectations by over $200,000. The same Fox-generated document reflected a budgeted city surplus of $30,000
Yet, Farmer's version of the document showed an actual budget deficit of $2.4 million and revenue that fell short of projections by almost $500,000. Farmer's document also showed a budgeted city deficit of almost $3.4 million.
Farmer points to a set of Lebanon City Council minutes from the Aug. 2 meeting containing comments from City Commissioner of Finance and Revenue Hal Bittinger to support his assertions. In the city meeting minutes – part of the City Council meeting packet for the upcoming Aug. 16 meeting – Bittinger appears to say there is no budget surplus.
"Commissioner Bittinger stated due to some of the larger projects that were funded out of cash reserves, including remediation of the landfill, there would not be a surplus show in last year's budget," the minutes state. " … Commissioner Bittinger stated during the budget process, the surplus is around $30,000, but at the end of the year, the average surplus is actually around $300,000 to $500,000."
Lebanon City Council budget ordinances from special-called Council meetings on June 28 and June 29 archived by The Democrat include budget ordinances that reflect a surplus of over $30,000.
Bittinger when contacted by the newspaper Monday would not clarify his comments documented in the meetings or the discrepancies in the two campaigns' budget numbers.
Bittinger said the higher end-of-year surplus is typically the result of unspent monies originally intended to provide pay and benefits to city employees.
Some city employees take extended leaves of absence each year, and new employees have no benefits for 90 days, he explained.
"That's where the money comes from," he said, adding city officials "know about what the (surplus) is now."
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.