News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 6, 2013

Can budget belt be loosened?

Council discussing raises for fire, police, city employees

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — If the city’s budget were a pair of pants, officials would be asking whether they can be made to fit for another year, given some salary increases already promised to a large number of city workers.

At Thursday night’s City Council meeting, the big question was how contracts promising 2.5-percent pay raises to members of the police and firefighter unions can be afforded and whether other city employees can expect the same.

The police and fire department salaries are the big ticket items for the city financially. Together, they make up about 72 percent of the spending in the city’s critical general fund.

The police and fire salary ordinances presented to the nine-member City Council at its “sunshine” meeting represent a combined cost of raises is about $329,000 to the city next year, not including taxes and retirement contributions, according to figures provided by Leslie Ellis, city controller, who spoke to the council.

The cost of the firefighters’ raises would be about $168,000; the police raises total about $161,000, Ellis said.

Asked whether those raises can be given without laying off city employees, Ellis said “yes.” “We have other cuts we can make to fund them.” Speaking after the meeting, Ellis said she was not prepared to discuss those cuts at this time, but repeated they do not include layoffs.

In light of the city’s tight general fund balance, Councilman Neil Garrison, D-5th, asked Ellis how members of the council should explain the raises to the public.

“I will have some good details for you at our budget meeting that will encompass our plans for the general fund,” Ellis answered.

“But, we would vote on [these salary ordinances] before that?” Garrison asked.

That’s correct, Ellis answered. “The 2.5-percent raise is included in the budget, and it is fundable,” she said.

However, it’s not yet known whether other city employees can also expect a 2.5-percent raise in 2014, Ellis said in response to a question from Councilwoman Amy Auler.

“We’re still running the numbers on that,” Ellis said. At this point, there’s no guarantee, she said.

“I just want to make sure what we’ve done for one, we’re going to do for all,” Auler said in response.

It is hoped the city will know whether other employees can expect such a raise by the end of next week, Ellis said. A final answer will “definitely” be known by Sept. 23, she said.

Police and fire salary ordinances are historically presented to the council before other departments’ salary ordinances, noted Norm Loudermilk, council president. However, they could be tabled for a month to allow the council more time to consider them and because the deadline for passing all salary ordinances is not until November, he said.

The 2.5-percent salary increases for the police and fire unions are spelled out in existing contracts with both public safety unions. The firefighter’s contract specifies a 2.5-percent raise for 2014 while the police contract contains a “me, too” clause, which guarantees police the same raises firefighters receive and vice versa.

Although the raises are part of negotiated contracts, the City Council, in the event of a financial emergency, is not bound by them, Loudermilk noted. Ordinances are law and take precedence over contracts, he said. Loudermilk also said he hoped the police salary ordinance would be amended to provide 2.5-percent salary increases for civilian employees of the police department.

The City Council could vote on these and other ordinances at next week’s regular meeting, 6 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall. The ordinances are available online in the City Council section of the city’s website, www.terrehaute.in.gov.



Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com