With tensions mounting as the City of Terre Haute is in the midst of financial challenges, Councilman Neil Garrison asked the City Council Thursday evening to withdraw an appropriation to transfer $2 million from the Rainy Day Fund to the General Fund until a later meeting, stating that the "city is on the brink."
Councilman Norm Loudermilk disregarded that request and motioned in favor of it, and the appropriation ultimately passed 8-1.
After a lengthy discussion on the transfer of funds, Councilman George Azar noted he's been on the council for nearly 16 years and he's upset about the current division on the council. He added that he'd like to see the members work together to solve problems.
"Somebody explain to me how that happens, that a month ago, bringing this forward to help pay vendors, was a good idea, but tonight it's not a good idea?" Azar asked.
Two people started off the meeting with a confrontation toward the administration regarding the critical situation of the city's budget.
Terre Haute City Council candidate Earl Elliott (R) approached the City Council during the meeting about the financial condition of the city as it's headed into budget hearings.
He gave all council members a report to review regarding all the individual funds of the past adopted budget.
“My interpretation on that, if I’m right, concerns me because I really don’t recall much discussion about many of these funds, other than the General Fund and action taken on any of the other funds, other than the General Fund,” Elliott said, noting he is concerned of pooled cash balances and added that the deficit is more than $7 million.
Cliff Lambert, city Redevelopment Commission director, also addressed the council regarding his own budget concerns, going as far to say the city is in crisis.
He stressed that the city administration has withdrawn more than $7 million of redevelopment accounts in recent months, adding that the city owes the redevelopment commission $5.4 million.
Pointing to two city controller documents, he accused the city administration of withdrawing $600,000-- or $75 percent of the spring distribution-- from the Downtown TIF allocation account in Aug. 12.
“Remember, this is the account that the Redevelopment Commission must use to make construction loan payments for the new police station,” Lambert said.
City controller records show a second withdrawal by administration from the S.R. 46 account, on the same date, of $300,000 --or 50 percent of the spring distribution, he said.
“So, surely the withdrawal of nearly $1 million on Aug. 12, is yet another sign of low pool cash accounts,” Lambert said.
Mayor Duke Bennett denied the accuracy of the reports and questioned motives.
Loudermilk agrees with the mayor and said he believes Elliott's numbers are "skewed."
"Obviously this is another staged event. It's really disappointing that the approach is to come in here and do this at a public forum, and to continue to not have dialogue or ask question of us first, and be able to answer those questions and then come in here and be able to follow up if it's brought to the City Council," Bennett said.
In council business:
The Terre Haute City Council is once again discussing transferring $2 million from the rainy day fund to the general fund to help tackle troublesome budget issues.
Councilman Neil Garrison reminded the audience at today's meeting that the plan was initiated and then tabled in talks last month regarding funding the proposed new Terre Haute Police Station construction project.
"If the money is there, why not pay down the debt," he said.
Councilman Norm Loudermilk said he supports the transfer of funds to boost the general fund, noting that it will be beneficial as long as it's done before the end of the year.
President John Mullican explained that the possible action to move the $2 million is an accounting measure and the city controller Leslie Ellis agreed, adding that the administration supports the appropriation.
Other council members present at tonight's Sunrise Meeting: Don Morris, George Azar, Amy Auler, Todd Nation and Jim Chalos. Councilman Bob All was absent.
The council members will consider the following ordinances and resolutions at next week regular meeting: