STOW — City Council has approved Stow’s 2019 operating budget, totaling roughly $65 million, pledging to work with the administration to bolster the road improvement program.

The vote was 5-0 Thursday, with Council members Bob Adaska (Ward 4) and Bryan D’Antonio (At Large) absent. Under state law, the operating budget had to be approved by the end of March. The city had been operating under a temporary budget in the meantime.

The city’s finance director describes the document as "a very sound and responsible budget" that continues to provide residents with the high quality of services they’re accustomed to.

"Debt reduction remains a high priority to ensure financial stability, along with recommending responsible project spending by the administration and City Council," Stow Finance Director John Baranek said. 

The goals of the finance department during 2019 include continuing an accelerated debt reduction program and allocating "adequate funding for major equipment replacement and other needed capital improvements to keep the city’s investment in its assets at a high level," Mayor John Pribonic reported in his State of the City address. 

Last year the city funded its highest all-time road resurfacing program, which totaled more than $2 million. "We’ve improved our debt position," Councilman Brian Lowdermilk (Ward 3) said Thursday evening. "I think it’s time we start putting more money into the roads."

Pribonic reported his administration is considering adding an additional $500,000 to the roads program this year. The amount of the city’s 2019 road repair program hasn’t been finalized yet, Stow Budget and Management Director John Earle said. However, if there is consensus to increase the city’s 2019 road repair program, Earle said additional funds could be borrowed from the water fund and repaid with interest later.

City Council President Matt Riehl said he and colleagues Mike Rasor (At Large) and Sindi Harrison (Ward 2) had met with members of the city’s finance department earlier this week to discuss augmenting the road program. Riehl said he hoped to have a number to report in April.

"Most of us are entering our last semester on City Council," Rasor remarked, "and we want to be able to look our residents in the eye and say, ‘It took us a while, but we found the money to give you good roads.’"

What’s included

The city’s budgeted funds for all purposes in 2019 are approximately 2 percent above the 2018 budget, according to Baranek.

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 said.

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 for 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.

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