News From Terre Haute, Indiana

News

March 6, 2014

Mayor Bennett threatens veto of consultant funding

TERRE HAUTE — Mayor Duke Bennett is threatening to veto a measure before the Terre Haute City Council that would transfer money into the council’s budget allowing the body to again hire a financial consultant.

The nine-member council is again considering whether to hire an independent financial expert to provide reports and other information to it concerning the City of Terre Haute budget. Last year, for the first time, the council hired a consultant at the urging of members who felt they were not receiving timely or objective budget information from the city administration. However, the contract was for 2013 only, so a new approval is needed to rehire a consultant for 2014.

At Thursday’s “sunshine” meeting, Councilman John Mullican, D-6th, proposed moving $20,000 from the City Controller’s budget to the City Council budget for the consultant. However, Mullican said, a lower figure, such as $15,000, would likely suffice.

In 2013, the council spent about $17,500 on financial consulting services provided by Sackrider &. Co., a Terre Haute CPA firm. Earl Elliott, a CPA with Sackrider, served as the council’s financial consultant.

Bennett, addressing the council, said he opposed taking money out of the Controller’s budget or anywhere else within the executive branch of the city for a consultant. The city’s finances are already tight, he said, urging the council to pay for the consultant out of its own budget. The council’s budget has only about $5,000 for “legal services” available for such spending, a city official said.

When asked by Councilman George Azar, D-at large, whether he would use his veto power in the matter, the mayor said he likely would.

“It’s very possible that I may exercise that power,” Bennett said, adding he had only used his veto twice since taking office in 2008. However, he later corrected that stating he has only used his veto once, in 2011. In that case, the mayor vetoed a measure by the council to set up a non-reverting fund for money provided by the State of Indiana to maintain Wabash Avenue – formerly U.S. 40 – through the city. The council overrode that veto, something it can do with six votes.

On Thursday night, three of nine councilmen, Mullican, Neil Garrison, D-5th, and Todd Nation, D-4th, all spoke in favor of the consultant. One councilman, Norm Loudermilk, D-3rd, said he opposed hiring a consultant, calling it unnecessary and, last year, Councilwoman Amy Auler voted against hiring Elliott, citing the same reason.

The council could vote on the measures related to hiring a consultant at next week’s regular meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in City Hall.

n Also at the sunshine meeting, the council heard from Police Chief John Plasse, who urged passage of an ordinance designed to reduce graffiti in the city. In its current form, the ordinance would give property owners 30 days to clean up graffiti once they were notified of the problem by a letter from the city. Failure to clean up the graffiti in 30 days would result in a $25 fine.

Council members raised several questions, such as the best ways to remove graffiti from different surfaces or whether property owners should be given extra time to deal with graffiti because of harsh weather. Plasse told the council he welcomed their concerns and is willing to make changes to the proposed ordinance, meaning it may not be ready for a vote Thursday night.

All proposed council ordinances are available on the city’s website at www.terrehaute.in.gov.

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

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