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Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Law director responds to accounting requests

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - Inquiries from a resident about the city's finances led to law director Kraig Noble's explanation of the city's investments during Monday's council meeting.
Kumar Sivognanam earlier this month said city officials were not being open with city finances and were irresponsible for keeping the investments in an account that only earns about 1/2 percent. He asked for an explanation of the funds.
At Monday's meeting, Noble said St. Marys has more than $20 million invested in low-risk accounts. This money is the sum of different funds of the city.
Money generated by certain activities can be used only for that specific purpose but can be merged into one account for investment purposes, Noble wrote in a memo to council.
"The city's finances are an open book," he said.
Most of the city funds are in enterprise funds, he said. These funds are generated by the operation of city utilities (electric, water, sewer and refuse). The capital improvement and general funds also carry significant balances.
The return on these balances has been less than 1 percent. This is because of the economy, which the city has no control over, Noble said.
"Interest rates for savers are at record lows," Noble said. "Interest rates, of course, are subject to decisions and events occurring at the federal and international levels. There have been times when interest rates for the city have been much higher. Now the city, like other investor savers, must go through a period when investment returns are low."
Noble said city finances are one of the most highly regulated areas of government.
"State government places severe restrictions on the investments of our funds, which limits our selection of investment vehicles," Noble said.
The state defines three categories of public monies: active, which are the checking accounts; inactive, which are rare; and interim funds.
The city holds most of its funds in interim funds. The Ohio Revised Code strictly defines what are permissible investments for interim funds, Noble said. They are treasury bonds; bonds of government agencies; limited amounts of high quality, short-term commercial paper; bank CDs; and STAR Ohio, a state-run money market fund.
The fact that St. Marys has these limited investment choices and a balance of over $20 million "indicates that the city has been financially well managed for many years," Noble wrote in the memo.
These fund balances serve as a rainy day fund enabling the city to take on additional projects and maintain its workforce during tough economic times, he wrote.
"Persons from the state auditor's office have commented on the excellent financial condition of the city," Noble wrote. "We should be proud of the fact that we have managed our resources so well."
In other action, council:
• Approved a third and final reading of an ordinance authorizing the execution of an agreement with Clemans, Nelson & Associates, who will act as consultants for bargaining with city employees.
• Approved a second reading for an agreement with American Municipal Power for the execution of a landfill energy schedule for the use of methane gas. Using methane gas will save the city nearly $20 per megawatt hour for the first six years, then $3 per megawatt hour after six years.
• Approved second reading of an ordinance allowing Safety Service Director Tom Hitchcock to establish certified nature wetland/grassland area on the property of AAP St. Marys.
• Approved first reading for new legislation authorizing Hitchcock to trade in a city vehicle.
• Passed a resolution in honor of the 25th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Awaji City, Japan.
Additional online story on this date
CELINA - The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI&I) is on average 125 days behind on processing DNA evidence, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. [More]
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