Auditor, administration at odds over money

By Jane Beathard

March 14, 2014

London Auditor Katie Hensel is at odds with Mayor Dave Eades and Safety-Services Director Steve Hume over the current state of city finances.

Hume says it’s a matter of differing viewpoints.

“She’s not looking at it as someone who is providing public services,” Hume said.

Hensel told city council on Thursday, March 6, London is relying on savings to pay daily bills. She asked for council’s direction in setting future funding priorities.

“Tell me what’s important,” she said. “I would appreciate a clear and transparent budget directive.”

Eades and Hume doubt Hensel’s statement, saying most departments are now operating under budget and London has money in the bank.

“We ended last year with more than $1.6 million in carry-over funds,” Eades said.

He credits thrifty department supervisors, across-the-board cutbacks in 2013 and new tax revenues for keeping the city in the black.

London’s 2014 budget erased last year’s layoffs and returned some departments, including the law and tax directors’ offices, to full staff. Hensel sees that as a looming problem.

“Costs are increasing and will continue to grow as personnel costs increase faster than the rate of inflation,” she argued.

Hensel said the current budget allows $300,000 in overspending. But new financial demands by some departments may add to that projected deficit.

She said London cannot sustain current spending levels.

But Hume emphasized the deficit is “projected” and may not actually materialize.

The police and street departments stayed within their budgets last year. Parks and recreation spent $167,000, but took in more than $100,000 in fees and donations, Hume said.

Funding for recreation continues as a point of contention among administrators, council and the auditor.

Eades and Hume insist less than 3 percent of the city budget is earmarked for parks and recreation. That money, they say, is well spent.

Hume will deflect any attempt by council to reduce funding for that department.

“A part-time department won’t work,” he said. “If you want to cut the recreation department, then cut it completely.”

Discussion will continue at a finance committee meeting set for 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 17.

Jane Beathard can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 16 or via Twitter @JaneBeathard.