The Herald Bulletin

October 10, 2013

Budget deliberations expected to resume at City Council tonight

Fire Department funding key sticking point

By Stuart Hirsch The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — The City Council is expected to resume fiscal 2014 budget deliberations tonight, but it doesn’t appear that key issues surrounding Fire Department funding have been resolved.

At issue is Mayor Kevin Smith’s plan to set Anderson Fire Department staffing at 111 firefighters next year, close two additional fire stations and build a new fire headquarters near St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital.

In addition, City Council President David Eicks, D-at large, said Wednesday there is also concern about the location of a new City of Anderson Transportation System (CATS) bus terminal downtown and proposed spending in other departments as well.

“We feel the budget is balanced in terms of priorities,” City Controller Jason Fenwick said Wednesday.

The proposed $31.55 million spending plan for 2014 is substantially the same as this year, he added. “We feel we have a good budget and would like to convince the council of that, but are not sure that will happen.”

The proposed general fund budget may be “balanced based on their priorities, but it’s not balanced based on the council’s priorities,” Eicks countered.

Eicks, for example, wants Anderson Fire Department staffing levels set at 116 firefighters, and is skeptical of the administration’s plan to close Station 1 at 44 W. Fifth St. and other stations.

Smith’s plan is based largely on a study conducted by R.W. Bassett & Associates, an Illinois fire service consulting firm hired to evaluate the fire department.

A competing study prepared for Anderson Firefighters Local 1262 by the International Association of Fire Fighters last year relied on different criteria to evaluate the city’s firefighting needs.

Eicks said on Wednesday that the real solution probably lies somewhere between the conclusions reached in the two competing studies. He has repeatedly urged Smith to convene a panel of business leaders that would develop an independent recommendation.

Smith has so far rejected that idea.

While the administration and City Council continue to debate those and other budget issues, it remains unclear whether the Department of Local Government Finance, a state agency that reviews and approves all municipal and county budgets in Indiana, will approve Anderson’s budget.

The city’s proposed budget was thrown into question last month, when the council delayed consideration of the budget ordinance, and didn’t set a new public hearing date during the meeting.

That action, DLGF officials have indicated, may have violated public notice laws.

Fenwick said DLGF officials have advised the city to continue its deliberations and go through the normal review process.

In the worst-case scenario, Anderson’s budget in fiscal 2014 would be the same as this year, but the state likely won’t issue a final ruling until after Nov. 1, the deadline for submitting budgets to the state.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with them,” Fenwick said, referring to DLGF officials. “At this point we are not going to get a yes or no answer.”

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If you go What: Anderson City City Council Where: Anderson City Hall 120 E. Eighth St., Anderson Time: 7 p.m. When: Tonight The City Council is expected to resume deliberations on the proposed 2014 budget.