TERRE HAUTE —
A majority of the Terre Haute City Council appears ready to support Mayor Duke Bennett’s 2014 budget.
At least five members of the council have told the Tribune-Star they will vote for the budget, including at-large councilmen George Azar and Don Morris, Amy Auler, D-1st, Bob All, R-2nd, and Norm Loudermilk, D-3rd. Councilman Jim Chalos, D-at large, said he is leaning toward voting yes.
Only five votes would be needed to pass the budget.
Last year, three members, John Mullican, D-6th, Neil Garrison, D-5th and Morris voted against the 2013 city budget, questioning the long-term viability of the city’s finances.
Now Morris, for one, has said he will support the budget for 2014.
“I will be voting for it,” Morris said after the meeting, adding, however, he is uncertain he could support one of the mayor’s potential new sources of city revenue: A trash removal fee.
The trash removal fee was just one of several potential new sources of revenue the mayor discussed at the meeting. If most of them become reality, the city could have a positive balance in its general fund without borrowing by 2017, Bennett said.
A trash removal fee would have to be approved by the City Council. Other potential new revenue sources would not. Those include a fee charged to city departments that would essentially transfer funding from non-general fund line items to the general fund. The fee would cover services provided to those departments by the city, such as legal or human resources work, the mayor said.
“All of our other funds are doing just fine. It’s our general fund that’s stressed,” Bennett said.
Mullican, chairman of the council’s finance committee, said he is pleased the mayor put forward a plan, but he noted that part of that plan, the trash fee, is uncertain. And another revenue source mentioned by the mayor, was undefined, he said.
“I’m a little concerned that [the mayor’s plan] includes revenue sources that are not already in place,” Mullican said. “I would like to be able to vote for it, but I’m still looking for a little more information.”
Garrison said he also remains undecided about his vote on the 2014 budget.
“It’s good that [the mayor] has a plan,” Garrison said after the meeting, adding he wants time to consider what he heard. “I’m not sure I agree with the plan, nor am I sure it can be implemented.”
Councilman Todd Nation had an out-of-town commitment and was absent from the sunshine meeting. He was expected to attend next week’s regular meeting.
It is not clear how much a trash removal fee would be. In the past, city officials have said the fee would have to be $9.25 per month per residence to cover the full cost of the annual Republic Services contract, which is about $2.6 million per year.
Bennett also warned the council against cutting the proposed 2014 budget.
“If we reduce the budget we have proposed this year, we are going to leave money out there that will be gobbled up by the other taxing entities,” Bennett said. “Taxpayers aren’t going to keep it. It’s just going to be distributed across the school corporation and everybody else.”
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.