Kent facing a $2 million deficit

Allison Bray

City manager says new jobs are needed to create more revenue for the city

The city of Kent, much like other cities throughout Ohio, is facing a budget deficit for the 2008 fiscal year.

Kent is $2 million in the red, even after the same amount of money has been trimmed from the budget.

City manager Dave Ruller said most of Kent’s costs are people-related. The city work force today is about 10 percent smaller than it was 10 years ago, even though Kent is serving more people.

Eliminating city employee positions as they became vacant saved about $1 million and reduced Kent’s workforce by about 10 percent. No layoffs have occurred, Ruller said.

Productivity and efficiency improvements have saved another $1 million. These improvements include chemicals purchased at the water plant, electricity usage and contractors, Ruller said.

To help city finances, Ruller said the city of Kent needs to stimulate the creation of more jobs.

“Ninety percent of the city’s revenue comes from income tax so it’s all about the jobs,” Ruller said. “We’ve got to continue to offer business incentives and work with the university as well as existing local businesses to do a better job of attracting new businesses and growing the ones that are here.”

Ward 2 councilman Jack Amrhein said Kent needs to promote economic development so money can be raised without increased taxes for citizens. However, if services become diminished, the possibility of higher taxes needs to be taken to the voters.

Amrhein said a panel found that tax increases would help alleviate the pending deficit. City Council can only vote to put a tax increase on the ballot; the citizens would have to vote for the increase.

“Nobody wants to pay higher taxes, but sometimes it’s necessary to get the services you need,” Amrhein said.

It’s been 23 years since income taxes were last raised.

Ruller said Kent’s deficit results from a 15 percent decrease over the last 10 years of high-paying manufacturing jobs and a population growth of 15 percent. This means the number of people using city services has increased, while the city’s ability to pay for them has decreased.

The deficit has affected lawmakers’ abilities to respond as quickly to resident problems. There are more citizen requests, but less people to take care of the problems, so it takes longer to resolve everyone’s issues, he said.

“For the most part, we’ve done a great job of stretching our resources to make sure that residents don’t feel the pinch too much,” he said. “But over time, I think the residents have begun to feel it.”

Ohio is also facing a budget deficit of between $733 million and $1.9 billion. The federal government’s budget deficit is projected to be at $410 billion, according to CBS News.

Some may then consider the deficit facing Kent and other cities a trickle-down effect.

Kathy Wilson, the interim economics department chair, said she does not think that is the case.

“It’s more that there are factors in common to all those governments,” she said.

She said when the economy slows down, all places will collect less money.

Wilson also said the state of Ohio may reduce funding given to municipalities because of the state deficit, but she has not seen any cuts to suggest that is happening.

Ruller said while budgets are not hot topics of conversation, Kent’s ability to create a place residents, students and businesses want to be depends on the resources available to make Kent attractive. Therefore, budgets matter a lot.

“There are more needs than there are resources . so cities have to learn to say no to those things that aren’t the top priority,” Ruller said.

Contact public affairs reporter Allison Bray at [email protected].