GIRARD - Financial Planning and Supervision Commission member and Girard resident John Masternick didn't want anyone thinking the city was spending frivolously, especially not at a time like this.
"Let the record reflect that the city did not pay for the pizza, the cake or the Dom Perignon," he said Thursday afternoon.
At 4 p.m., Mayor James Melfi popped the cork on that champagne bottle and, in the old city council chambers, he, Masternick and a host of others celebrated the city's official release from state-imposed status of fiscal emergency.
Girard has spent the second-longest period in fiscal emergency in Ohio's history, at 10.8 years, according to the state Auditor's Office. The Village of Manchester in Adams County has been in fiscal emergency for 14.7 years.
Melfi said he remembers that he was getting ready to attend his grandmother's birthday party on Aug. 8, 2001, when then-auditor James Petro called to tell him that with a certified debt of $2.5 million, Girard was officially in fiscal emergency.
The newly elected mayor had been pushing Petro for more time to find some financial wiggle room.
"He told me 'Jim, I gotta put you in. You're too far gone,'" Melfi said.
Nita Hendryx of the state Auditor's Office said Girard had 75 comments across 12 categories in 2001, had defaulted on some debts and could not maintain sufficient cash flow to cover payroll.
But on Thursday, Unice Smith on behalf of state Auditor Dave Yost officially terminated the existence of the Financial Planning and Supervision Commission before handing Melfi the official decree of release to read aloud.
Girard's total revenues according to its five-year forecast shows an estimated end-of-year fund balance of nearly $490,000 in fiscal year 2016.
Girard nearly emerged in 2007, having a fund balance of more than $700,000 at the end of 2006. But the January 2007 closing of Indalex, the city's largest employer sent Girard's finances spiraling downward yet again and the national recession of 2008 only compounded the damage.
Since then, the city has worked to increase revenues and cut costs through employee attrition and other methods. Most funds were showing positive, but until recently, the water fund kept the city from escaping its fiscal distress status.
An 8 percent water rate increase in March finally yielded the necessary financial forecast for the water fund.
"Our plan all along was to be aggressive in seeking grants and seeking ways to improve our city," Melfi said.
He said the city has still been able to make improvements throughout their fiscal challenges, including demolitions and the addition of a $7.5 million senior apartment complex.
The city recently received, for the first time, neighborhood revitalization grants. There have already been three grants totaling $1 million and Melfi said they are poised to obtain more state money for infrastructure improvements.
City Council has also entered into an agreement with Trumbull County for a money matching program that will help with further demolition projects. Girard has already contributed $25,000 to that. They've also applied for beautification dollars at Interstate 80 near the V&M Star site. The city is also conducting a study in partnership with Red Roof Inn to bring a hotel to the city.
He said he intends to continue spending conservatively and seeking improvements opportunities.
"That's the only style I know. I've never had any other style," Melfi said. "That's how it's been here and that's how it will be here as long as I'm mayor."
Melfi said he paid for Thursday's pizza out of his own pocket.