Terre Haute News
Indiana Central News
Terre Haute, Indiana
Terre Haute, Indiana
The special meeting held tonight to discuss the city's financial challenges at City Hall was more than two-and-a-half hours long, with just a handful of residents in attendance to discuss what has become the top local issue: The general fund deficit.
In identifying potential revenue sources, the council discussed the possibility of implementing a solid waste fee of about $12.50 per household, a wastewater fee, a stormwater fee, a public safety option tax or a food and beverage tax.
It was noted that the food and beverage tax could likely generate a fair amount of revenue; however, it could not be used to meet the general fund needs.
Public comment was encouraged during the discussion. Three residents addressed their concerns to the council, with both council and audience members questioning the community's ability to pay a possible trash fee.
Terre Haute City Council President Todd Nation, Vice President Karrum Nasser and members Earl Elliott, Amy Auler, Curtis DeBaun and Martha Crossen were present. Councilmen George Azar and Don Morris were not present at the meeting.
Nation led conversation at the meeting while referring to financial documents prepared for the session by Elliott. He pointed out that information available to him on the spreadsheets was limited to the end of the month of November, as information including December had not yet been provided by the administration. At that point, the deficit balance reached several million dollars.
"So, by Earl's calculation, he's saying that we're at $21,458.711 in the hole," Nation said. He also expressed concerns about vendors reportedly not being paid on time for services.
Mayor Duke Bennett said the report had been "mixed and matched," redirecting the coucil to look specifically at the general fund figures. He guessed it would be around $5 million less than Elliott's number.
After some discussion, Crossen pointed out that while the actual deficit numbers would rely on more information, it's still significant.
"We might not be able to be able to put pen to paper, and come up with exact numbers, We certainly identify that we have this problem, and it's going to take us somewhere -- at least five to 10 years to get back to the point where we don't have this terrible deficit," she said.
Further discussion continued on the figures in the budget, which Bennett explained was a "moving target."
Nation asked how long it will take to "get out of this hole?"The mayor believes implementing a new revenue source will help the situation tremendously. He said that it could take a few years to catch up.
"I thought the balanced 2016 budget, of about $34 million was passed, last October, " Nation said, adding," And City Council and city administration were happy. Now, we're $3 million short, nearly 9 percent, moving forward to 2017."
Cutting expenses and creating additional revenue sources to catch the finances up had audience and council members unafraid to address the $1.5 million allocated to fire department overtime hours in last year's city budget, while Bennett defended the costs of public safety, making it known that cuts there would not be acceptable.
Nonetheless, the Terre Haute Fire Department, with Chief Jeff Fisher and several members in attendance, took the heat from council members Garrison, Nasser, Nation and Crossen -- who suggested taking closer looks at the $16 million general fund budget, of which 80 percent goes for police and fire.
Crossen, while noting $800,000 is budgeted to the cost of THFD overtime, said the cost of "some big items in public safety" need to be looked at because of the severity of the financial situation.
"When we're going to, you know, we're going to go to our citizens and ask them to contribute more than a regular city -- then I think we really need to make sure we've looked at those things," Crossen said.
Bennett explained that the city has lost around $70 million in revenue since 2009, and it's one of the hardest hit out of the groups in a recent study.The overall budget has only increased 4 percent since 2008 he said, blaming tax caps for the financial woes. He said the administration has made as many cuts as possible at this point.
Further discussion on the topic will continue at the next City Council meeting Thursday, Feb. 11.
© Indiana Central News. All rights reserved. Terre Haute, Indiana
News Writer: Lucy Perry