The Herald Bulletin

October 11, 2013

City Council debates Smith administration budget priorities

Public safety dominates debate

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The City Council voted unanimously to introduce Mayor Kevin Smith's proposed 2014 budget Thursday night, but pointedly put him on notice that the spending plan will be amended in the coming weeks.

That warning from Councilwoman Donna Davis, D-District 2, came after nearly 90 minutes of sparring with city department heads over various aspects of the proposed budget.

As expected, however, Smith administration plans to set Anderson Fire Department staffing at 111 firefighters, and close two additional stations and build a new one dominated the discussion as city leaders struggle to find the right balance between staff and facilities in an era of declining population and shrinking revenue.

Chief Phillip Rogers told council members the staffing and facility plan he's developed to close Station 1 at Fifth and Jackson streets and build a new headquarters building near St. Vincent Anderson Regional hospital will address ongoing costly maintenance problems there and ensure adequate staffing and emergency response.

"What I'm saying is let the budget work, let our plan work and you'll see that it'll work out for this city and our fire department," Rogers told the council.

He said the plan will address issues the department will face not just next year, but down the road as a growing number of veteran firefighters consider retirement in the next several years.

Council President David Eicks, D-at large, other members of the council, and fire union leaders want to see staffing set at 116 firefighters. But Rogers and other members of the Smith administration don't believe that number is sustainable given the city's budget restrictions.

Eicks and others suggested money could be reallocated from within the Fire Department's $10 million proposed budget as well as other city departments to make those staffing numbers work.

Eicks also renewed his call for the administration to allow a panel of local businessmen to consider the issue and make a recommendation to city elected leaders "to try and take politics out of this."

Under state law, the City Council must adopt a budget before Nov. 1.

The proposed general fund budget for fiscal 2014 would be $31.55 million, about a $1.1 million increase over this year’s approved general fund budget of $30.46 million, according to new City Controller Jason Fenwick.

The general fund is Anderson’s main bank account. It is used to finance the operations of city hall, as well as police and fire services. Police and fire appropriations would account for about $20.9 million of total general fund expenditures in the 2014 spending plan.

A property tax levy of $20.68 million, plus a fund balance carryover from this year estimated at $6.16 million, will finance government operations. In addition, the city will receive about $15.41 million in revenue from other miscellaneous sources, Fenwick said.

What the expected levy does not take into account, however, is revenue the city will lose because of property tax relief measures passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2008.

Anderson’s net property tax levy will be $13.44 million, a $7.23 million difference from what the city would have received before property tax reform.

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