ANDERSON — The City Council may have violated Department of Local Government Guidelines (DLGF), rules on Thursday when it delayed a scheduled public hearing on Mayor Kevin Smith’s proposed budget for fiscal 2014, and failed to set another hearing during the meeting.
According to Indiana law, proposed budgets and property tax levies for cities, towns and townships must be advertised before Sept. 14, and again before Sept. 21, of each year. The date of public hearings must be included in that legal advertisement.
The city initially met that requirement, but the City Council may have inadvertently violated the rule through its action on Thursday.
A new public hearing date was set on Friday, however, and published as a legal advertisement in The Herald Bulletin on Saturday.
The question is how persnickety DLGF officials will be as they interpret the rules.
Smith’s take on the matter, after city legal and financial experts spent Monday wrestling with the issue, is that the 2014 budget could be in jeopardy, and Anderson might be forced to adopt a budget for next year based on 2013 revenue and budget figures.
That possibility is “directly related to the council not following Indiana state budget guidelines,” Smith said. The City Council “had to have a public hearing by state law. For some reason, I have no idea why, they did not do that, which could jeopardize the 2014 budget.”
Council President David Eicks, D-at large, who urged delay of budget talks because of concern about public safety spending and other aspects of the mayor’s proposed spending plan, was surprised by the potential hiccup.
“It seems very odd to me that those actions (by the City Council), would make it revert to the 2013 budget,” Eicks said, adding “I don’t see any reasons to change plans that are set at this point.”
He asked City Council attorney Tim Lanane to begin looking into the matter.
“I think we’re just going to have to work with the DLGF to get all this worked out,” Lanane said. “It seems like a pretty confusing and pretty fine point to me.”
The City Council on Thursday tabled consideration of the budget and scheduled hearings Thursday and Friday to clarify budget matters with city fiscal leaders and department heads.
Eicks urged delay of budget consideration because he’s concerned about public safety staffing and funding.
“My concern, first and foremost, is the public safety issue,” Eicks said on Monday. “I do not believe it (Smith’s budget proposal), adequately funds public safety.”
He noted, for example, that in 2012 the city employed 116 firefighters. This year, that number was reduced to 113, and Smith’s staffing proposal for fiscal 2014 is 111 firefighters. And Eicks is worried the mayor’s budget won’t adequately fund department overtime needs next year.
Eicks said $300,000 has typically been budgeted to meet the department’s overtime needs, but Smith’s spending plan slashes that amount by half. He’s also critical of administration plans for closing two existing fire stations and building a new one near St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital.
Eicks added that he’s also concerned about spending on a recreation trail, construction of a new downtown bus terminal for the City of Anderson Transportation System (CATS), and spending in other departments as well.
Councilman Russ Willis, R-District 1, was the only member who voted to move forward with budget consideration.
He said he simply wanted to get the discussion moving forward.
“There are some council people who want to exert their influence and agenda on some areas of the budget,” Willis said. “I have no problems questioning things, but sometimes I question their agendas.”
Like Stu Hirsch on Facebook and follow him @stuhirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.
If You Go Anderson City Council will conduct two budget review hearings this week at City Hall, 120 E. Eighth St. Hearings begin at 5 p.m. in first-floor Economic Development Conference Room. AGENDA Thursday, Sept. 19 5 p.m. Economic Development and Anderson Redevelopment Commission 5:20 p.m. Controller and Capital Improvement 5:50 p.m. Board of Public Works and Local road and streets 6:10 p.m. Municipal Development Friday, Sept. 20 5 p.m. Police pension 5:15 p.m. Anderson Police Department dispatch 6 p.m. Fire pension 6:15 p.m. Anderson Fire Department Source: Anderson City Clerk's office