August 15, 2013 10:54:41 AM
Columbus Ward 3 councilman Charlie Box admitted he was "tickled to death" to bring the city's FY2014 budget into balance without the need for a tax hike.
Certainly, we applaud the mayor, council and city department heads for their fiscal restraint for bringing into balance what began as a projected $860,000 deficit after its first budget workshop a few weeks ago.
In fact, at it presently stands, the budget shows a $34,000 surplus, although that black ink will likely disappear when increases in insurance for employees is factored in.
Still, it seems likely that the city will live within its means.
We applaud the sacrifices many department heads made. Even as we commend the mayor and council for arriving at the desired sum, we are not entirely confident in the means required to reach it.
It is very clear to us that while some departments sacrificed, and sacrificed greatly, others did not.
Nobody's ox was gored as much as that of the Columbus Fire Department. In essence, the budget was brought into surplus primarily on the backs of the city's firefighters.
Almost 97 percent of the cuts required to bring the budget into balance -- $865,500 --came from the CFD. The bulk of those cuts came from taking a plan to replace the antiquated Fire Station No. 4 near Fairview School. Built in the 1940s, Fire Station No. 4 is so outdated that it cannot accommodate the modern trucks used to fight fires today. An additional $40,000 planned for firefighting training and equipment and fire prevention programs got axed as well.
We would be more inclined to accept that unfortunate reality if we felt that the mayor, in the spirit of true community service, would have been willing to make even a small sacrifice to spar some of those cuts.
Sadly, he was not.
The mayor insists on spending $45,000 in taxpayer money to buy a new Chevy Tahoe, an expenditure Ward 6 councilman Bill Gavin strongly contends is excessive.
While the mayor's request for a new vehicle is reasonable -- he currently drives a 2002 Escalade that was part of a drug-case forfeiture -- we believe he could manage just fine in a more economically-priced vehicle.
Gavin said a $45,000 truck was pretty close to being what you would pay for a luxury vehicle, a point that seemed to offend the mayor, who pointed out that he represents the city. The line of thinking seemed to be that the residents of Columbus would be humiliated by the very idea of its mayor being forced to conduct business in the cab of, say, a new $30,000 Ford F-150.
In the end, the mayor got his way, which should surprise no one.
Granted, the $15,000 difference in the mayor's new truck is a fraction of the budget.
But that $15,000 would be three breathing apparatuses for our firefighters. It could cover the costs of fire prevention programs for children and the elderly.