STEUBENVILLE — The city finished 2018 with a general fund cash surplus in excess of $761,000, Finance Director Dave Lewis told council Tuesday.

Lewis said the city’s year-end cash balance was just shy of $4 million, but about $1 million of that could be attributed to him having to close out blanket purchase orders — those are for routine expenses like office supplies — in December to comply with state law. That money will be charged off in January.

“That’s a pretty good cash position,” he said during a 90-minute finance committee meeting prior to council’s regular weekly session. “But I caution you: It looks good, but a lot of that has to do with end-of-year requirements that we close out the purchase orders. It makes your cash (balance) look good but when you open back up in January, all those purchase orders have to go back in. You’ll probably see a drop of about $1 million when you see the January reports.”

Lewis said an uptick in income tax collections had a lot to do with the city’s improved finances, pointing out Steubenville took in about a million dollars more in income taxes year over year.

“That’s a big increase from 2017 to 2018, the biggest since 2005,” he said.

On the flip side, he said the city’s water fund “is probably the one where I see the most stress.”

“We’re going to have to really monitor it,” he said. “Right now, we’re above the minimum … (but) I’d like to be above two months’ worth of expenditures, that would keep us out of trouble with the state.”

“Should we wait and see what it looks like in February?” 4th Ward Councilman Scott Dressell asked.

“I don’t think it would hurt,” Lewis replied, later agreeing it might be best to wait until April to sort it out. “I would think at some point you may want to put some money away. We need to start putting money away or we’re going to have to look at (alternatives).

He also suggested council consider setting aside funds to address future capital needs, pointing out two fire stations — downtown and Pleasant Heights — are 80-plus years old and approaching the end of their useful life.

“Right now it looks like we have a good financial position, but there are a lot of expenses on the horizon and capital needs that are going to be coming in from the departments,” Lewis said, adding, “You’re going to have to put some money into fire department facilities.”

During council’s regular meeting, second readings were heard of two proposals to change public signup rules, as well as proposed ordinances:

≤ Authorizing approval of expenditures of more than $3,000 without a purchase order, pursuant to state law.

≤ Seeking bids for the Martin Luther King Recreation Center roof replacement;

≤ Requesting qualifications for professional/consulting services under the state’s Community Housing Impact & Preservation Program, authorizing the city manager and urban projects director to contract with the most qualified bidder. The ordinance also empowers city officials to reject all offers.

≤ Advertising for professional engineering services for the city’s water and wastewater capital improvement projects.

The final reading of all eight ordinances will be Jan. 29.

A downtown business owner suggested council should be less concerned with bringing big name franchises into the downtown and focus instead on encouraging local entrepreneurs to open unique shops that will generate traffic and fill empty storefronts, while another resident requested a clarification on the rules for addressing department heads while council is meeting in executive session.

Council also met behind closed doors for less than a half hour to discuss pending litigation involving health care and workers comp cases.

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