ELKHART – The city of Elkhart is in for some deep budget cuts, which include keeping police and firefighters at home - unpaid.
Next year's controversial spending plan still has to pass the Common Council, but it looks like these reductions will become a reality.
It’s a tough reality for that community, which has pitted Mayor Dick Moore against some members of the council. Both say these cuts could've been avoided.
The news is just sinking in on Main St. where folks are learning of the mayor’s plan to keep some first responders at home unpaid as a way to save money.
“I think it’s awful that they’d even think of removing the police and the firemen,” said Betty Nowicki.
Under Moore’s 2013 spending plan released Friday, 300 police and fire employees would be forced to take 3 unpaid days off each year. Another 300 city workers would be forced to take 5 unpaid days off a year.
That equals just under $400,000 in savings but also means about one less firefighter and one less police officer on the streets each day.
“We can’t continue to provide the basic and essential services and continue to cut the line items, the day-to-day cost of our operation any further, so the next thing we have to look at is people,” said Moore.
And there’s more.
There are cuts to funding for city events like the Jazz Festival. There will be less money going to the Economic Development Corporation and other groups. And the city will close the Oak Hills Golf Course and try to sell it.
How did it get to this?
Mayor Moore says property tax revenue is way down. So are income and sales tax revenues in this recovering economy. He says he tried to avoid the cuts by proposing a trash fee, but the Common Council voted it down.
“I would say to you that none of this was necessary,” said Moore. “The trash fee would’ve covered all of this. We could’ve continued on the way we were."
Not true says council member David Henke. He says there were plenty of other ways to save money, like directing maintenance employees to work across multiple departments.
“Show us that you’ve done your part as the administrator of this community, and then ask the community to fall in step with you,” said Henke.
A budget vote is about a month away, but with such disagreement, there’s not much either side can do.
The proposed trash and recycling fee would have been $11.35 a month.
The full list of cuts is below:
Moore's full statement
To the People of Elkhart:
With the failure to pass the Trash and Recycling Fee Ordinance, I have been forced to go to extreme measures to make up for our losses in property tax revenue (10.5 million dollars.). It falls heavily on the shoulders of our employees as we have an obligation to provide the basic and essential services to our people with less revenue and employees. I have spent hours and hours that would have been unnecessary had the trash fee been approved and therefore relieved the pressure on our General Fund, EDIT and Greater Elkhart as well.
Looking for a savings in the 2013 budget of $1 to $2 million dollars so that we might be better prepared if we get another revenue loss in 2014, we have cut $1.6 million from the budget. Again recognizing what government’s obligation is we are reducing the funding that supports our day to day operation by $1.4 million. In addition to that we are reducing the funding to Downtown Elkhart Incorporated (Jazz Festival), the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County and will no longer fund the Chambers Incubator program. Total savings of $195,240. Based on our previous budget reductions of over $3 million dollars, there was nowhere else to go. The cuts are as follows:
We currently have seven job openings that will not be filled. Total savings $328,000. We may have more retirements in 2013 and we will look at them one at a time. If we feel the department can continue on without the employee that will be our decision. Hiring decisions will be made by the Administration.
January 1, 2013 the position of neighborhood coordinator will be eliminated. The duties will be merged with another employee’s current duties. Total savings $51,000.
We're going to reduce some part-time funding, overtime funding, and temporary funding, transfer one IT tech salary to the Department of Public Works, fund one half Code Officers position in CDBG and reduce the Parks Department temporary account. Total savings $183,180.
We're going to reduce the funding to the Economic Development Corporation, Downtown Elkhart, Inc. and discontinue funding the Chamber of Commerce Incubator Program, drastically reduce funding to our Washington Lobbyist, take a little off of the Municipal Band, have the Utility pay the Chamber dues and stop funding the Mega Systems and the Natural Gas Consortium for which we have no need. Total savings $195,240.
We will stop funding Oak Hills Golf Course, reduce the Board of Works budget and transfer the Education Account at the Police Department to another fund. Total savings $273,000.
Approximately 300 employees which include the Police Department and the Fire Department and a few others that work 24/7 will be furloughed three days per year (3 unpaid days a year). The other 300 working a normal five day week will be furloughed five days in 2013 (5 unpaid days a year.) Total savings for the three and five-day program is $396,995.
Total savings making up our additional property tax losses for 2013 is $1.6 million. We do not know our possible property tax loss for 2014. We do not know what will happen to our health insurance premiums for 2013.
It will be difficult to maintain our effectiveness and our efficiency. We may not be able to offer as much assistance to other organizations and events as we have in the past. Overtime will be restricted to emergency use. We must reduce our fuel usage. With the trash fee, these cuts would not have been necessary.
I regret the need to make these cuts but the program will require only a few layoffs. There will be one job elimination and others by closing the golf course. With little exception, we will reduce and have reduced our workforce through attrition only.
As I stated, our first obligation is to provide the basic and essential services that our citizens require and expect. No matter what else we don’t do we must do that. The vote made it difficult. I have spoken to Republicans, Democrats and Independents who have been very understanding about the need for a trash fee. I am convinced the Council did not vote the will of the majority of the people of Elkhart. The majority want us to go on as we have been, funding those things that make us a complete City. The vote will not allow that. Those who voted no need to forget their political differences. I understand those who voted against the ordinance would manage the City differently than I. It is a difference in political philosophy. But I have been elected twice by a large majority and have to take that as a vote of confidence in my judgment. I hope that at least one who voted no will revisit their position and do what is best for their community by voting for a new trash fee that I intend to present to the Council soon. Figures are approximate. Figures are approximate. Actual numbers will be provided to the Council by the City Controller.