I began my freshman year as a news reporter at The Post, Ohio University’s independent campus newspaper. I was promoted during the spring semester to news staff writer, a reporting position with a weekly quota. Beginning my sophomore, I am serving as one of the two news editors at The Post. Below are some of my selected works from The Post. Additional articles can be found at thepostathens.com.
Building a Budget: A look at building the yearly budget in Athens
Kathy Hecht sits in an office riddled with paper. Stacks of manilla filing folders line her desk. Her bookshelf is filled with rows of binders, and boxes on the floor have even more files. The desktop of her office computer is just as crowded. Small icons virtually take up the entire screen.
“I should clean some of that stuff out,” Hecht said. “But who has time?”
Paper floods Hecht’s office, and with just the city’s expenditures budget stacking up to be 43 pages long, it’s no surprise why.
As city auditor, Hecht’s time is devoted to the numbers. One of her largest jobs is helping create the city’s yearly appropriations ordinance. In order to create a realistic city budget, Hecht must look at projections, compare past numbers and estimate city revenues. The work is time consuming, but necessary and is done by various city officials as early as six months in advance.
Ohio law requires that municipalities have their yearly budgets passed by Jan. 1. Formal meetings to discuss the appropriations ordinance begin in September and stretch until mid-December.
For Hecht, the process begins as early as June.
Hecht’s main responsibility lies in creating the revenue budget, she said. That includes making estimations on how much the city will spend within various departments. Mayor Steve Patterson creates the expenditure budget, which tries to pinpoint how much each department will spend in the year. To uphold her end, Hecht uses revenue data from past years. She has a large spreadsheet file on her computer that outlines her process. Some boxes are highlighted in bright yellow, and they all contain figures.
Hecht said she took the city’s actual revenue from 2017 and 2018 and used it to project how much the city would bring in this year. She highlighted items she was unsure about and included the money from last year that carried over, which amounted to $1.3 million.
Hecht and Patterson are not the only ones bringing data to the table during meetings. The city finance and personnel committee and City Council President Chris Knisely are also included in that process.
Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, heads the finance and personnel committee. He describes his role in creating the budget as “very involved.”
The finance committee meets weekly with the city auditor, mayor, service safety director and president of council, Risner said. Departments will have meetings on their own as well.
“The departments in turn look at, again, what are their capital needs, what equipment replacement might there be, what do you need for fuel, what do you need for any equipment that has met its useful life supplies,” Patterson said. “So there’s a lot of other things to think about.”
Hecht said that sometimes departments don’t give themselves much room between the money they have to work with and what’s budgeted. That may require Hecht to step in.
“We have to make any adjustments and say, ‘you have to reduce your expense budget because I don’t think you’re going to get all that revenue,’” Hecht said.
A living document
The appropriations ordinance that requires City Council approval deals with all sources of expenses that the city may encounter. All those expenses are listed under the yearly expenditures, letting the city know how much money needs to be allotted for that year. Once all the appropriations are made, they are put into an ordinance for council approval.
Risner describes the appropriations ordinance as a living document. Even when the budget gets passed by City Council, it is still subject to change through amendments.
If a department is spending more money in a month than it normally would, it becomes short, Risner said. Meanwhile, when another department isn’t spending as much, that money can be transferred. City Council has a formal way to obtain those fund transfers.
“You can’t just simply go and take it,” Risner said. “There is a process you have to go through to do that.”
Any changes to the city appropriations must be made through an amendment. Those amendments go through council in the form of ordinances, which originate in Risner’s finance and personnel committee and then work their way back to the Athens City Council.
Much like Hecht’s work, all of the budget is built off estimates. The goal of the appropriations ordinance is to anticipate the needs of the city and where money will need to be allocated.
“You know, you do the best you can with the information that you’ve got,” Risner said. “I can make some assumptions. Revenues will be a certain amount. You know that you’re going to be spending more money in the coming years.”
Even then, some changes cannot always be anticipated. For example, Patterson said there was a recent sewer line collapse on College Street. That project was not included in appropriations.
“That was something that wasn’t anticipated and it was (a) really deep dig,” Patterson said. “So we’re going to have to appropriate monies and likely transfer some monies from one account to another to cover the cost for that project.”
Risner said one of the most problematic funds is the Community Center and Recreation department. The estimated community center expenses for 2019 is $1,105,376, according to Athens’ 2019 expense report. The revenue for the center is only estimated to be $1,062,100. On top of that, an additional $50,000 is allocated for “Phase II” of the community center, which will also bring in a revenue of $19,000.
“We’re trying to break even,” Risner said. “That’s a difficult department. There’s so much flux going on. One little thing can really change everything. Chemicals for the swimming pool can go up.”
The bulk of the budget
This year, Athens’ appropriations ordinance totals to about $45 million, Hecht said. A significant amount of that money is put into the general fund. The general fund is an umbrella fund that encompasses most of the city’s day-to-day expenses. That includes items such as vehicle maintenance and postage. This year, there is about $15.9 million budgeted for the general fund, according to the 2019 expenditure estimate.
Income taxes are the largest source of city revenue, Hecht said. Those dollars are mostly put into multiple funds in the general fund.
“The tax revenue goes into several different pots,” Patterson said. “Everything from the general fund, which is our largest fund … but then we also have the arts, parks and recreation levy that’s going into capital improvements.”
The first area that is budgeted is the payroll of city government officials, Hecht said.
Some of the most costly expenses in the City of Athens’ general fund include paying for fire service and police enforcement. Those two services account for almost half of the general fund’s expenses, Hecht said.
“(Police and fire) are 24-7 operations, so it’s costly,” Hecht said. “But we’ve got to have it.”
The police department costs about $4.7 million each year, according to the 2019 expenditures. The fire department costs more than $3.6 million.
Personnel expenses also account for about 60 percent of the total $45 million budget, Risner said. Within covering personnel, multiple facets for which must be accounted. Wages, benefits and health insurance all add up, Risner said.
Some Athens residents have specific concerns about what should be highlighted more in the city’s budget. Among them, Wolfgang Suetzl said the city should spend more money on its infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.
“Prioritize that,” Suetzl, an Athens resident and assistant professor of media arts and studies, said. “They’re doing some great things, and they should just continue those.”
Risner said Athens’ yearly budget is nothing compared to that of Ohio University’s. The university’s 2019 budget is estimated at about $770 million, according to OU’s budget book.
Nonetheless, there is much to be analyzed by the City of Athens before and after appropriations are approved. It’s a constant cycle of reevaluation and estimation. Formally, the budget process lasts only about seven weeks. Although the process is much longer on Hecht’s end, she’s still glad that an entire team helps put it together.
“Budget process has been better the last couple years,” Hecht said. “It is a collaborative process. It has to be.”
On thin ice: How climate change presents itself in different areas
In the wake of the Midwest’s polar vortex, climate change has become an increasingly popular topic of discussion in the public eye.
The discussion centers mostly around the United States, China and other major countries. However, Ohio University associate professor and director of the Scalia Lab, Ryan Fogt, researches climate change in a continent where climate records aren’t as plentiful: Antarctica.
Fogt has several research projects on the continent. All of them revolve around climate change in Antarctica and look at the role that humans may play in the phenomenon. One of Fogt’s projects looks at changes in atmospheric pressure in Antarctica, while another focuses on changes in sea ice melting rates.
Gathering this data is important, Fogt said, because records on Antarctica are sparser than most other continents. Data from Antarctica only goes back 60 years, and most continents have data spanning back between 100 and 150 years.
“So we don’t know how unique some of the changes are that we’re seeing happen, if they’ve happened before and if they’re happening faster than other places on the planet,” Fogt said. “And so what I’ve been trying to do is take records that we have and extend them back farther into time to understand better the uniqueness of them.”
Fogt’s study on sea ice levels is his most recent project. The lack of data still makes the cause of sea ice levels difficult to pinpoint, but it doesn’t minimize the issue importance.
“The Antarctic Ice Sheet represents the greatest potential source of global sea-level rise,” one of Fogt’s studies reads. “Its response to climate change is a key source of uncertainty for future projections.”
Fogt said that his research on sea ice levels is concerning to some. The research has revealed that sea ice is melting from below, which is contrary to the idea of ice melting due to the atmosphere. That melting occurs when warm water is under sea ice and melts it, contributing to lower sea ice levels. The melting has a profound effect on the high-altitude Southern Ocean, or Antarctic Ocean, according to Fogt’s study.
“We’re seeing those profound changes, which have us concerned,” Fogt said. “A lot of scientists are concerned that these changes are happening quicker and may be irreversible. In other words, they may not stop. They may continue on and lead to sea level rise.”
In the U.S, the rise of sea levels can already be seen on both coasts, Fogt said. Sea level rise is one of the many effects of climate change in the U.S. Other effects that have been realized are heavier precipitation events and heat seasons. That could, in turn, harm the Midwest and Ohio’s agricultural systems.
“Corn and soybeans can only thrive under certain temperatures,” Fogt said. “And so, if our climate rises above those temperatures, we will no longer be able to produce or have as much yield from corn or soybeans.”
The polar vortex remains a gray area in terms of its correlation with climate change. Scientists struggle with how to define polar vortexes, and it is still being debated and researched.
“I tend to think that there are connections to climate change,” Fogt said. “I also believe right now that it’s still relatively unclear.”
Fogt does believe that the U.S. might see more cold air systems and events in the future. This could be related to cold airs in the Arctic that are carried over to the U.S.
From his research, Fogt hopes that people take away that climate change is a global pattern. That pattern can be broken down and affect different areas in different ways. The effects of climate change are different in both the U.S. and Antarctica, and some may be irreversible. Policy can help mitigate climate change’s effects, Fogt said, and conversation is key.
To spark conversation, Fogt encourages OU students to get involved in the Office of Sustainability’s sustainability hubs. Those hubs are a part of the Office of Sustainability’s restructure and plan to approach the issue of sustainability through “engagement ecosystems,” according to a previous Post report.
Both Athens and OU have strong sustainability programs, but the hubs will allow for greater collaboration between the two, Elaine Goetz, interim director of sustainability, said.
“Generally, the hubs will foster connections between faculty, staff, students and community members who are working on sustainability initiatives that have been identified as priorities in the Ohio University Sustainability and Climate Action Plan,” Goetz said in a previous Post report.
Those who are not a part of the hubs can still get involved. All are welcome to attend hub seminars and other hub events, Goetz said.
Fogt’s hub, the Sustainable Administration hub, also accepted applications for Climate and Sustainability ambassadors. Those ambassadors will help promote sustainable living and enhance climate literacy across campus and the region.
“We’re bringing people together to work for change and be part of a different story,” Fogt said. “And I think it’s really exciting.”
Lactation rooms on campus provide private areas for those who breastfeed
Those who breastfeed on Ohio University’s main campus can turn to one of seven lactation rooms that offer a private, comfortable breastfeeding experience.
A new area for those who need to chestfeed will be opening soon in The Convo. The Women’s Center raised money to purchase a mamava, which is a portable lactation pod.
The total cost of the mamava is $25,000, Samantha Pelham, university spokesperson, said. The pod itself costs $24,300, and another $700 was commissioned for the design of the mamava. The cost of installation is not yet known, Pelham said.
When the mamava arrives, Women’s Center Director Geneva Murray hopes to do a marketing push for all of the lactation rooms on campus. Murray thinks this is a good idea to raise awareness on where the rooms are located.
“We are doing so well in terms of getting additional spaces,” Murray said. “An area we’re not doing so well in is getting the word out.”
Lactation rooms have been open on OU’s main Athens campus since 2007. The first of those rooms was Baker 353.
“The Southern campus had one of the first lactation rooms, and that spread immediately through the other campuses,” Regional Higher Education Dean Bill Willan said.
The rooms are available for anyone who may need to “chestfeed,“ as they are inclusive of trans and gender non-binary individuals. Murray said she takes some of the credit for the opening of lactation rooms but not all of it.
There was a lactation room committee that began pushing for areas for those who need to breastfeed in a private space. Dianne Bouvier was the creator of the lactation room committee, which formed when Murray began her job as the Women’s Center director.
“Dianne gathered several of us and said that she thought that this was a really good opportunity with having a new director, and then also some of the other new hires in terms of our perspectives,” Murray said. “I think she also saw it as a way for her to really help promote women in terms of taking this sort of leadership opportunity on campus.”
Aside from the work of the lactation room committee and the Women’s Center, some locations on campus established their own lactation rooms. Alden Library got lactation rooms on its own, as did McCracken Hall.
Murray spoke about the lactation rooms during a Student Senate in January. Murray addressed how the Women’s Center is trying to create guidelines for the lactation rooms in order to keep the rooms consistent and comfortable for users.
“Even for the rooms that the lactation committee wasn’t working on in terms of creating, (the Women’s Center) worked with different rooms to make sure that we were updating the stuff that was in it,” Murray said.
The Women’s Center provides most of the resources found in each lactation room. Some of the resources include gliders, ottomans, tables and microwaves. The Women’s Center is also trying to get Medela Symphony pumps in each room. Those pumps cost about $2,000 each and are hospital-grade pumps. Murray said it’s important for the Women’s Center to try to provide pumps in the rooms.
“The reason that that’s so important is because for people who are transient, who maybe don’t have a home office they’re always going to be in … it means that if you want to use the pump that we have provided, you only need to bring your own attachments,” Murray said. “You’re not having to lug around a big heavy pump all day to be able to use it, which is really exciting for us.”
The Women’s Center supports breastfeeding in every form, Murray said. More lactation rooms open means additional options for those who breastfeed, but it doesn’t mean lactation rooms are the only option for breastfeeding.
“Just because there’s an increase in lactation rooms doesn’t mean that’s where we think people should go in order to be able to pump,” Murray said. “It does mean that we want options. So if people want to be in a private place, they can be.”