STOW — The city’s proposed $65.027 million budget for 2019 reflects a "very lean and very mean" fiscal approach compared to the last six or seven years, according to Mayor John Pribonic.

The city’s budgeted funds for all purposes in 2019 are approximately 2 percent above the 2018 budget, says Finance Director John Baranek.

City Council is considering the city’s 2019 permanent budget appropriations, with the first hearing taking place last month. Under state law, permanent budget appropriations have to be approved by the end of March. The city has been operating under a temporary budget in the meantime. 

The administration is developing a list of all necessary capital expenditures for 2019, with that process expected to be completed by April 3, according to Baranek. Last year the city funded its highest all-time road resurfacing program, which totaled more than $2 million.

Baranek observed this is the 23rd time he’s presented an operating budget on behalf of the city. He described what’s proposed as "conservative," adding he is focused on retiring debt and noting "there are no additional borrowings proposed." 

Stow Budget and Management Director John Earle describes debt reduction as a foundation of the finance department’s approach. 

"We’ve reduced our outstanding debt by approximately $1.75 million per year in the last 11 years," Earle said, noting that in 2008 the city’s debt reached an all-time high: approximately $33.57 million. This year the city’s debt is estimated to total $14.36 million. It’s been eight years since Stow issued any new general obligation debt, and the finance department employs a pay-as-you-go strategy for capital improvements whenever possible. 

The proposed 2019 General Fund budget, as submitted to Stow City Council, totals $32,935,835.

"This budget shows a $910,232 increase over the 2018 Council approved budget ($32,025,603)," Baranek says. He noted the 2019 expenditure budget reflects the city using $412,355 of current unencumbered funds. The city’s budgeted unencumbered balance at the end of 2019 is $4,143,980. 

Anticipated revenues from income tax in 2019 total $15.91 million, a 1.73 percent increase over 2018’s $15.64 million. Earle describes income tax as the city’s most important source of revenue, noting it accounts for 55 percent of the revenue for the general fund and is the main source of revenue to fund the city’s annual debt requirements.

"There are provisions in this budget to give the new administration an opportunity to set priorities and begin to establish their initiatives in a responsible manner," Baranek said. "As in the past, our plan is to keep the city’s monitoring plans in effect for overtime expenditures, continued evaluation of any employee vacancies, and continued monitoring of other operating expenses as necessary. "

Stow boasts an excellent credit rating, according to finance department officials. In the future, Baranek said, city officials will need to evaluate many of its fee structures so Stow may continue to serve residents at its current level.

City Council was scheduled to meet Thursday but canceled both committee and Council meetings due to a lack of a quorum; a rescheduled date had not been determined by press time. City Council’s next regular meeting will be on March 28 at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 3760 Darrow Road. Committee meetings will precede the Council meeting at a time to be announced.

Reporter Ellin Walsh can be reached at 330-541-9419, or @EllinWalsh_RPC.