The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Cops, courts and fires

October 23, 2012

Anderson City Council delays budget vote

Members want time to review alternative proposal

ANDERSON, Ind. — The Anderson City Council delayed a scheduled vote on the proposed 2013 budget Tuesday while members consider several amendments offered by Democratic Councilman David Eicks to minimize layoffs in the police and fire departments.

Eicks proposed $1.3 million in alternative cuts — from police and fire training accounts, a fire department building account, legal, municipal development, park, motor vehicle highway fund, and what’s left of the city’s wheel tax account — and using the majority of that money to finance police and firefighter positions.

Under Mayor Kevin Smith’s proposed $63.2 million budget for fiscal 2013 up to seven Anderson police officers and 20 firefighters could be laid off to achieve a balanced city spending plan as required by Indiana law.

Anderson’s financial position is so dire, the mayor sued the firefighters union over contract provisions that prevented layoffs and set minimum staffing levels.

Circuit Court Judge Dennis Carroll earlier on Tuesday ruled in favor of the city, effectively paving the way for layoffs. (See separate story elsewhere in today’s edition.)

“I think we should take time to consider these amendments, so I’m not asking you to vote tonight,” Eicks told his elected colleagues. “I don’t want to rush into anything.”

To consider his proposals, the City Council voted unanimously to recess until Monday when it will take up the budget again.

One of the issues that particularly concerns him is that the city appears to have $437,000 in county option income tax revenue that’s supposed to be earmarked for public safety that hasn’t been budgeted.

Smith, who attended the city council session, which was packed with off-duty police and firefighters anticipating a budget vote, said the administration will be happy to work with the council and evaluate its suggestions.

But years of declining property tax revenue have left the city with little budget maneuvering room.

“We are at a financial ceiling,” Smith said. “We are literally out of tax money.”

Eicks said as the City Council’s budget chairman, he’s fully aware of Anderson’s economic problems.

But he’s been frustrated in efforts to get department heads to detail for the council what the day-to-day impact of layoffs would be and how adequate public safety can be maintained with smaller police and fire departments.

“My concern is what are the proper numbers for the two departments?” Eicks said. “No one has given us a business plan for the Police Department and the Fire Department.”

City Council President Rodney Chamberlain said the city is in uncharted territory.

“We’re just trying to save employees. We’ve never had this issue before,” he said. “I want to do what’s best. If there is money there to keep them, that’s what I want to do.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The city is required by law to submit a balanced budget to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance by Nov. 1.

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

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