Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
The Terre Haute City Council on Thursday approved the 2014 city budget, 6-3.
Council members Bob All, R-2nd, Amy Auler, D-1st, Norm Loudermilk, D-3rd, and at-large councilmen Jim Chalos, Don Morris and George Azar voted to pass the city’s $89 million budget for next year.
Council members John Mullican, D-6th, Todd Nation, D-4th and Neil Garrison, D-5th voted no.
Five votes, a majority, were needed to pass the budget, which includes about $33.8 million for the city’s general fund. The general fund pays many of the city’s day-to-day expenses and has received a considerable amount of attention recently because of it being in the red.
It also generated a long discussion at the council meeting, held at City Hall, with council members who voted “no” explaining their reasons.
“The general fund budget that we’ve been presented with has about $33 million in spending and about $29 million in revenue,” said Nation at the meeting. He said that one of his reasons for voting no was because of this gap.
For the past two years, the city has been taking out a $5 million “tax anticipation warrant” to help meet cash flow. The loan for 2014 is expected to be on the same level.
During a previous meeting, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett presented a plan to address the gap. If successful, the plan could erase the need for the annual tax anticipation warrant.
But some council members were not still “uncomfortable” with some parts of the plan, which factored into their decisions to vote no.
Nation said the plan is built largely on a trash collection fee that has “no political will to pass.”
“But the plan is mostly built on things that have not happened yet. We need to know where we’re going,” he said at the meeting.
Other members agree.
“I think we’ve taken some positive steps but I think we’ve got some things we’re relying on that we’re going to have to continue to ... try to refine,” Mullican said.
The trash fee, Mullican said is “very uncertain,” but he said he is glad to see a plan to at least pay down the tax anticipation warrant.
“I’m trying to look at this from every angle to find a comfort level but I’m still very uncomfortable with some of the revenue that we’re counting on to make things work,” Mullican said.
Council member Garrison has voted against previous budgets and did so again this year.
“2014 appears to be in a higher or increased deficit spending over the previous years, so I will not be supporting that,” he said.
“The $5 million general fund loan still exists,” with discussion that it will be extended, and Garrison said he is not “thrilled” about that.
Bennett defended his budget.
“I understand reasons to not support it,” he said, “but I’m feeling very confident that we’ll get to a point next year that we will be really close to being a balanced budget by the end of the year.
“We presented a budget that is very fundable, very doable for next year,” Bennett said after the meeting.
The mayor said this year’s budget is a $600,000 increase from last year, “but at the end of the year, we end up not spending all of that money.”
“We always budget for what we would like to do and we really work very, very hard throughout the year to make sure we do what we have to do,” he added.
“Yes, it’s got a few things in it that we still have to clear up over the course of the year,” he said.
But it’s only the beginning.
“We’re going to move forward and get it done,” he said.
The council also voted on salary ordinances for city employees. Almost all of the city employees will receive a 2.5-percent raise next year, except for department heads and elected officials.
The mayor, city judge, city clerk and city council members’ salaries will not rise. The mayor’s salary remains at $89,663, the city judge at $53,540 and the city clerk at $54,601. Those salaries do not include benefits.
The nine city council members’ salaries are $14,520 each plus benefits.
The council’s November sunshine meeting has been canceled.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.