By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS (AP) — A tool designed to help Ohio’s 247 cities and 88 counties better assess their financial health and make sound budget decisions went live Wednesday.
Republican Auditor Dave Yost rolled out what he calls a “Fiscal Physical” database of financial health indicators developed by his office, a compilation of information that he said shows “there’s not a lot of wiggle room in the fiscal health of our local governments.”
The project has initially identified one county, rural Fayette, and 15 cities with elevated fiscal stress levels. Another two counties and 13 cities are one indicator away from a level that’s elevated.
The database is searchable and public.
Yost said he challenged his staff to identify warning signs to help cities or counties identify potential problem areas in advance and to measure their fiscal stress levels. He said he hates the part of his job where he has to declare municipalities are in fiscal emergency.
“It’s statutory, there’s objective method for it, but I just hate getting there,” he said. “I understand the challenges that are faced when you get into that kind of situation where your back is against the wall and you’re the local elected official and you’re left holding the bag for many decisions by outside forces that have been gathering for years, maybe even decades.”
Their work evolved into 17 common indicators that Yost’s report measures with a green, yellow and red warning system similar to that used in traffic lights. Among other things, the system flags a lack of investment in capital and infrastructure, spending that exceeds revenues, declining year-end revenue balances and declines in property-tax revenues.
Yost said it may not tell individual local governments anything they don’t already know, but it can serve to provide a statewide perspective on the health of local governments. The unveiling comes days before Republican Gov. John Kasich introduces what he says will be a very tight budget. It’s unknown whether his spending blueprint will include another economic hit to the state local government fund.
Ohio Municipal League executive director Kent Scarrett said Yost’s fiscal fitness information will be part of cities’ messages to the governor as budget talks progress.
“We’ll be talking about these budget numbers and these perspectives as we address the administration and continue our dialogue with the administration,” he said. “But this really puts a finer point on what we’ve been talking about, that there are great challenges out there in different communities.”
The 15 cities with elevated stress levels are: Akron, Ashtabula, Canton, East Liverpool, East Cleveland, Fostoria, Garfield Heights, Girard, Maple Heights, Martins Ferry, Nelsonville, Niles, Norwood, Ravenna, Springfield and Washington Court House. Fiscal emergencies had previously been declared in East Cleveland, Fostoria, Maple Heights, Niles and Norwood.
Ohio Auditor: http://www.ohioauditor.gov/