The Herald Bulletin

October 11, 2012

Critics of public safety cuts testify at public hearing

Dozens take to the street to protest before meeting

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Public safety was top-of-mind Thursday night as the Anderson City Council held a public hearing on the city’s proposed $63.2 million budget for fiscal 2013.

And the public isn’t happy about the prospect of cutting seven police officers from the Anderson Police Department, or 20 firefighters from the Anderson Fire Department. The proposed budget calls for 107 police and 104 firefighters.

Kristian Grant, who has already gathered at least 1,400 signatures from people opposed to the cuts, presented that document to each of the nine City Council members.

And her emotionally charged testimony drew applause from the standing-room-only crowd on hand.

Grant said she lives near Shadyside Park where there have been a series of violent robberies in the past several weeks. That’s where she regularly takes her children to play.

“We felt like that was a safe neighborhood,” Grant told the council. “Where am I supposed to take my children to play?”

“I pray that your house does not burn down. I pray that your children don’t get beaten, raped or stabbed in a park. And pray to God to have mercy on the soul of this administration.”

Like many in the audience, including representatives of police and firefighter unions, Grant believes other budget cuts can be made that won’t affect public safety.

She also singled out Mayor Kevin Smith for traveling to China and Italy to make contact with foreign companies that might want to invest in Anderson.

Grant called the economic development trip an expensive “vacation” which, given the dire nature of the city’s proposed budget, seemed irresponsible.

Smith isn’t scheduled to return until Saturday, so Deputy Mayor Pete Heuer testified about the financial circumstances that led to the proposed cuts.

He said city leaders faced many difficult decisions because property tax revenue has plummeted $9 million since 2005. He also noted that the Madison County Council’s decision earlier this year to rescind the wheel tax caused the loss of $1.2 million in revenue.

“The administration has presented you with a budget that represents a balanced approach to providing the community with the necessary services that must be maintained within each department.” Heuer told the council.

He added that other city departments such as municipal and community development, and street and parks have also seen drastic cuts.

And the city is still faced with a $1.15 million budget shortfall. Funding public safety represents about 70 percent of the city’s budget, he said.

“Maintaining staffing levels in police and fire would necessitate elimination of other city departments funded by the civil city budget, and this action just does not make good, common sense,” Heuer added.

Representatives of the police and firefighters disputed those assertions.

“The budget before you does not provide for adequate public safety services to the citizens we are all sworn to protect,” said Jon Smith, president of Anderson Firefighters Local 1262. He said the union has conducted a financial analysis of the budget and think there is a solution that could eliminate the need for layoffs in the department.

But Smith said he was unable to provide any details about that analysis because of a lawsuit the city filed to invalidate parts of the union contract.

Scott Calhoun, president of the Anderson Fraternal Order of Police, criticized the Smith administration for not reaching out to the unions about the budget problems.

And he questioned how approximately $6.7 million in public safety county option income taxes collected over the past three years has been used.

Councilman David Eicks renewed his request of city department heads to provide him with written reports about how proposed budget cuts would affect their departments.

Few have arrived, he noted.

He seemed to grow increasingly frustrated while questioning Police Chief Larry Crenshaw about how the departments will operate with the cuts.

“I won’t know what the impacts will be until after the budget is adopted,” Crenshaw said at one point.

Eicks said he needs that information because “I’m trying to understand the budget you proposed.”

Before the council meeting, several dozen current and former police officers, firefighters, their supporters and family members took to the street outside city hall to call attention to the proposed staffing cuts.

The council is expected to adopt the budget at its 5 p.m. Oct. 23 meeting at the City Building.

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.