East Palestine wades through budget process

EAST PALESTINE – Council members spent a good majority of an hour this week asking Finance Director Traci Thompson to explain the yearly budget, and Councilman Don Elzer is concerned other financial losses, like those at the concession stand in the park, could go unnoticed.

Elzer and council members Endia Wisser and Ellen Beagle said they didn’t understand the entire budget as presented and asked that a more “simplified” version be available.

Council has given two readings to the 2015 budget so far, with a third reading and a vote scheduled for the next meeting. The budget is only a preliminary estimate at this point, and Thompson said she expects to spend about $2.4 million for the remainder of the year.

The village operates on a roughly $5 million budget each year, and that includes carryover from the previous year, which has helped balance the overall budget.

She said council is given a fund cash position each month, and agreed to work with them to get more simplified information, although she noted more detailed reports are required for state purposes.

“From our standpoint it went on for years and we didn’t know it,” Elzer said of the losses at the concession stand, which amounted to at least $9,000 a year the last five years it was in operation. “We found that out. Where else is that happening that we don’t know about?”

The money was lost because the stand wasn’t taking in enough money to cover its expenses. The village has since turned over concession stand operations to a private company and has met in executive session to discuss what happened before that.

Thompson explained those losses were not noticed until it was too late because the park’s reports only showed revenue received and not expenditures, while other fund budgets show both.

Council is now being provided with detailed park revenue reports on a monthly basis, she added.

According to the overall budget summary presented to council at the last meeting, the village will spend $218,640 on the park for personal and department expenses alone in 2015.

The park will receive $108,000 through general property taxes that year.

The general fund for 2015 will account for $1.62 million, with the overall village budget estimated at $5.26 million, including estimated property taxes.

Council members told Thompson they believed she was doing a good job and did not indicate any misappropriations were being done, but stressed they wanted to better understand the process in order to make comparisons and see any financial losses so the necessary action could be taken before it’s too late.

Council gave a second reading to the budget legislation during the regular meeting.

Also during the meeting, Village Solicitor Dave Powers said non-surface drill leases have been offered for parcels covering 210 acres of village-owned land.

The leases are all being offered by one company he did not wish to disclose publicly, and they are for property that is non-contiguous.

He and Council Clerk Misti Martin are in the process of identifying neighboring property owners in order to send the proper notifications for the required public hearing, yet to be scheduled.

A hearing must be held before council can vote on a lease.

Property owners to be notified are those living within 500 feet of the property targeted for leasing, and Powers also did not disclose those locations during the meeting.

The village has been seeking an oil and gas lease for village-owned land the last few years.

Council also approved:

– Authorizing Village Manager Pete Monteleone to award a contract for the new water well.

– Giving a first reading to legislation setting supplemental appropriations for 2014.