PORTSMOUTH — Finances for many were affected immensely in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic, where some had to rely on federal and local aid to get by and others saw increased savings due to decreased expenditures.
What 2020 meant financially speaking to the City of Portsmouth was revealed in City Auditor Trent Williams’ report during the City Council meeting Monday evening.
Through a variety of means, including increased income tax collection and funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the city’s budget position improved in nearly all measures when compared to 2019.
“I’m happy to inform you that all of the major funds, as well as all 67 funds of the City of Portsmouth, ended 2020 in the black,” said Williams, to the cheers of the council when he notified them of the sewer fund’s progress in the past year.
Major improvements in the city’s general and water funds were the most notable, which saw a difference of more than $3.8 million and $1.2 million respectively. Its street, sewer, and insurance funds also experienced growth from 2019, where the combined gains of the six major funds were more than $6.2 million.
Williams, answering through email, said he did not expect an increase of this magnitude in his previous projections where the pandemic had large implications on the actual reported sums.
Reaping the benefit, the $9.5 million general fund brought in $1,060,227 from the CARES Act, used to help offset police and fire department salaries in 2020, and $1,119,522 from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation rebates.
The pandemic has changed how people lead their lives, conversely changing how they use resources and Williams believes that brought in more cash for Portsmouth.
“Another thing we think contributed greatly to the improved water and sewer fund balances were the fact that, due to the pandemic, more people were staying home and working from home and thus using more water while at home instead of being out and about and at their workplaces,” he replied Tuesday.
The increase in the sewer fund brought it into the black for the first since 2008, where it had been in a deficit reaching as high as $1.5 million in 2016. Expenses were high for the city as needed repairs were for an old sewage system, yet Williams said increased rates were able to bring it out of the deficit.
Increased rates may also be needed for sanitation, the sole fund that lost revenue last year when compared to 2019. Bringing in $264,907 in 2020, the sanitation fund was just over $65,000 behind the previous year.
As mentioned in a previous PortsmouthDailyTimes article, varying sanitation rates- the regular monthly, senior monthly and $5 for each additional tipper can- exist for residents. This fund’s status is the largest hurdle for the city in clearing its state fiscal watch said City Manager Sam Sutherland previously.
Williams said a rate increase has not occurred since 2014 and also noted in his 2020 year-end report that Sutherland is looking to pursue additional commercial accounts to improve the fund’s finances.
Additionally, the city’s revenues from income tax collection reached just north of $13 million, higher than the projected revenue by over $300,000. Williams said this transpired despite collections from April through July being down compared to 2019, where August erased this by being up over $450,000 compared to 2019.
Income tax collection in Ohio changed due to House Bill 197, passed in March with unanimous support, which had workers temporarily relocated due to public health workers to pay income tax from where their company is based instead of where they were working from at the moment.
“I would not say this provision applies as much to Portsmouth as it does to much larger cities such as Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland that draw employees from surrounding bedroom communities and suburbs,” said Williams, the city’s collection from a much smaller pool of those live or work and businesses that operate in Portsmouth. “Our income tax collections performed quite well in 2020 and will hopefully continue to do so in 2021 and beyond.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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