The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

Local governments dealing with budget cuts

By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — While no one likes to see budgets shrink as the cost of living rises, officials of government agencies and school systems have been facing the financial challenges of 2010 head-on and have braced themselves for 2011.

“We fared like every other community,” said Alexandria Mayor Jack Woods. “We had our cuts and dealt with them. There is nothing you can do to change it.”

Needing to function on $300,000 less than expected, Alexandria officials have been forced to make difficult decisions. Cutting services that residents enjoy may not make them popular, but other options are not available.

“Our biggest priority right now is to keep our workers,” said Woods. “We will have to cut back on things that were free, and we hope that people will understand that it is not the city’s fault.”

Smaller communities are not alone in their financial struggles.

“Overall, we have had to face the reduction of about $10 million dollars each year,” said Tammy Bowman, director of public and media relations for the city of Anderson. “Tough choices had to be made. We feel that as a government agency, the priority is to maintain public safety, so those areas have been cut less than others because of their critical nature.”

Mentioning that Anderson has fared better than other communities due to Hoosier Park Racing and Casino, Bowman said that the slot machine wagering fee has brought money back into the government coffers.

“And the private sector and volunteers have stepped forward to fill gaps that were left by some of the reductions,” she added. “Hundreds have come forward with clean-ups and landscaping.”

While the cities and towns are dealing with their cuts, the school systems have shortfalls of their own. Not only have local schools faced significant losses in revenue; they have been informed, as well, that their budgets will not increase for four years.

“We had a reduction of 4.5 percent in 2010 and will have another 5 percent reduction in 2011,” explained Joe Buck, chief financial officer of South Madison Community School Corp. “After that, we will have a flatline budget, but inflation alone means that a flatline budget will cause more cuts.”

“Our costs aren’t flatlined,” agreed Bobby Fields, superintendent of Frankton-Lapel Community Schools. “Prices of fuel and utilities are going up, while revenues are and have been the same. We are having to make difficult decisions and are looking at cutting positions that don’t directly affect classroom instruction.”

While South Madison and Frankton-Lapel are both growing school districts and have been able to add revenue by attracting more students, this growth only lasts as long as space is available.

“We have run into a space issue and we can’t take any more students at this point,” said Fields, pointing out that the only other options for an increase in revenue is winning grant money or taxpayers agreeing to raise their own taxes through a referendum. “We are not intending to ask for a referendum.”

“All of the employees have had to make sacrifices,” Buck added. “We have to put together a budget that can stay within the funds we are given. Everyone is going through the same things across the country. We are all dealing with the same concerns.”