News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 11, 2012

City’s 2013 budget up for review tonight

Questions remain about whether there will be a general fund deficit

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The city’s 2013 budget is set for public review tonight in City Hall, but some important details in the budget remain unknown.

The size of the proposed budget is about $72 million. City officials expect to trim that to a smaller figure by the time the budget is actually passed by the nine-member council later this month, said Leslie Ellis, city controller in an interview Tuesday in City Hall.

The city’s “general fund,” which pays for the day-to-day expenses of running the city, is expected to be about $32 million when the council considers its passage, she said.

The city started 2012 with a general fund deficit of about $4.5 million, according to figures compiled by H.J. Umbaugh and Associates of Indianapolis, an accounting and consulting firm.

Whether there will be a general fund deficit in the 2013 budget remained unclear as of Wednesday.

“It all depends on what options the [City Council] will support,” Ellis wrote in an email response to the Tribune-Star.

“If [the council members] decide to not support enough options, we will be forced to make deeper cuts in order to not have a deficit,” she stated. “Those cuts would then be made throughout 2013 in order to make the budget work.

“We can better answer this question on Oct. 29,” when the council votes on the 2013 budget, Ellis wrote.

Many of those “options” for eliminating the general fund deficit are being discussed in private meetings between council members and administration officials, including Mayor Duke Bennett, Ellis and Scott Walker, a financial consultant for the city.

So far, administration officials publicly have only floated the option of a solid waste disposal fee to help balance the budget. That would need council approval, which may be difficult to find.

“We already pay taxes for trash removal,” said council President Don Morris, reached by telephone Wednesday. Morris also expressed frustration at not receiving a revised budget after last week’s public budget meeting with Bennett and Ellis. There were some “typos” and other errors in that version of the budget, he noted.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Morris said. “Here we are a day before the meeting” and no revisions have been provided, Morris said. “It’s quite a bit of information to digest.”

Other “options” being discussed with members of the council in private meetings have included using Economic Development Income Taxes (EDIT) and the “rainy day” fund to address the general fund deficit, council members have said.

“Just because the general fund is in deficit, that doesn’t necessarily mean things are bad,” said Councilman Norm Loudermilk, D-3rd. He said the administration is also considering opening a city employee health clinic, which could generate up to $500,000 in annual savings. Administration officials also are considering charging city-owned utilities, such as the wastewater utility, a “payment in lieu of taxes” to help cover city services provided to the utility, he said.

The deficit can be addressed in phases over the next couple of years, Loudermilk said.

When reached Wednesday by the Tribune-Star, several members of the council expressed frustration about a lack of specific information about the budget, now just weeks from a vote. That concern was echoed by John Hilderbrand, executive director of the Taxpayers Association of Vigo County.

“The city has not provided any solid information relative to the budget,” Hilderbrand told the Tribune-Star. He plans to ask administration officials tonight for their revenue and expense forecasts for 2013.

One new expense in the 2013 budget is already known: a 2-percent salary increase for the approximately 550 city employees, at a cost of roughly $1 million. Salary and benefit expenses make up at least 80 percent of the city’s budget, Ellis said. The city’s trash removal contract with Republic Services is set to cost $2.6 million in 2013, she said.

Copies of the 2013 budget will be posted on the city’s website, www.terrehaute.in.gov, only after it is approved by the Department of Local Government Finance in Indianapolis, Ellis said. DLGF approval is not expected until about February, she said. Until then, a copy is available for review in the City Controller’s office in City Hall, Ellis said.