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Steubenville Council looks ahead at 2024 budget needs



STEUBENVILLE — City Council should get its first look at the city’s proposed 2024 spending plan in two weeks.

City Manager Jim Mavromatis said they’ve been working with department heads to identify items they can “pull” from the proposed budget and plan to erase another $175,000 before they’re done.

“We just have to look at everything with a fine-toothed comb, look at what different departments have submitted,” he said. “We have to look at revenue coming in — that’s’ what’s changed. We don’t have the revenue coming in like we used to, we don’t have the infusion of funds that came with (American Rescue Plan) funding. We’re looking at everything here so we can get through 2024 with a balanced budget — we’re looking at some things that can be trimmed away. After a few more meetings with department heads we’ll have the final answer.”

Mavromatis said the budget trimming is normal. “Everybody goes through it,” he said.

He said they’ll also be closing the books for 2023 soon so the finance department can figure out how much of a cash carryover they’ll have — money earmarked but not actually spent.

“That will all come back once we scrub the books,” Mavromatis said. “It will offset some of these things (we pulled) and we may not have to cut as much as we did. But with the way the economy is now, the high interest rate and all that, this is us being conservative about our money.”

He told council they’ve already factored in “where we can go” in terms of the financial impact of new contracts being negotiated with the city’s bargaining units. He also pointed out costs have increased across the board — for instance, the city’s share of hospitalization premiums for city workers with families is now $40,000 a year, adding it’s “a little less” for unmarried workers and couples.

“That is a lot for a city to be paying,” he said.

Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul, the finance committee chair, scheduled a finance committee meeting for 6 p.m. Dec. 5 to discuss the 2024 budget.

“For my 12 years on council, we’ve tried to have it passed by the end of the year,” Paul said. “… I always tell council that we can amend (it) as the year progresses.”

Council also heard the first reading of an ordinance amending the zoning classification of a parcel now owned by the Steubenville City Schools board of education, changing it from high density to public/semi-public. A community garden and outdoor learning center will be carved out of the property.

A 2022 proposal to allocate $275,000 for repairs and upgrades to municipal ball fields and batting cages was rejected by a 1-5 vote.

Prior to voting Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn reported that the parks and recreation director, Lori Fetherolf, had indicated she didn’t support the proposal since the city had already paid to have all of the ballfields upgraded and she’s applied for grant funding for the batting cages. Even so, First Ward Councilwoman Asantewa Anyabwile cast the only vote in favor of earmarking the money.

Council voted down a 2022 proposal to earmark $400,000 for the repair of Beatty Park Bridge, pointing out they’d already appropriated considerably more than that for the project and are already on the road to bidding it out: The state historic preservation office OK’d the city’s plans for the bridge in October, and now they’re waiting for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Law Director Costa Mastros said killing the proposal won’t impact a bridge repair ordinance that was adopted earlier this year, while the 2022 proposal was still on the table.

The proposals to fund ballfield upgrades, batting cages and bridge were among nine ordinances that had been on the table for a year before Third Ward Councilwoman Heather Hoover questioned why there hadn’t been any movement on any of them. After votes were taken on the upgrades, at Hoover’s request legislation was “un-tabled” that would, if approved, earmark $200,000 for construction of a splash pad at North End Park; $300,000 in upgrades to the Martin Luther King Recreation Center; $550,000 for construction of basketball and pickleball courts at Belleview Park; $700,000 so the Planning and Zoning Commission could develop “various projects” in the city and second reading of an ordinance earmarking up to $25,000 for the MLK fitness room.

Hoover maintains it’s time for council to act on those long-tabled matters, one way or the other.

Council heard the first reading of an ordinance that would rezone a parcel now owned by Steubenville City Schools to public/semi-public. A community garden and outdoor learning center will be carved out of the property, though the asphalt art project they’d sought grant funding for was denied.

First reading also was given to a proposal by Fourth Ward Councilman Royal Mayo to give Steubenville Little League Association $5,000. Mayo sunshined the proposed legislation a week ago after council, over his objections, committed $5,000 to help defray costs associated with the Steubenville Nutcracker Village holiday display.

Paul sunshined emergency legislation amending the municipal tax code. Mastros explained that the changes, although minor, must be made to bring the city code in line with changes made at the state level.

Mayor Jerry Barilla reminded council Christmas at the Fort and Steubenville Nutcracker Village are kicking off the holiday season today, pointing out none of it would be possible without the volunteers who worked tirelessly to get things ready.

“By the fountain we have four little Christmas trees, singing trees, they’re all electronic,” he said. “We had a gentleman who was there working from 9 a.m. this morning to probably 5 p.m., getting everything wired up. And the huge tree, we needed (lifts and manpower) to get that all together. I’m so grateful we have people stepping up to give back to Steubenville.”

The tree lighting ceremony and fireworks were postponed until Friday because of the heavy rains and wind in the Tuesday forecast, he said. The gift shop at the Visitor Center and Nutcracker Village will be open, he said, “but the tree won’t be lit and there won’t be fireworks (until Friday).”

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