Terre Haute News
Indiana Central News
Terre Haute, Indiana
Terre Haute, Indiana
'What had been simmering for some time now appeared to reach a boiling point --- almost to the brink of becoming a political firestorm at last night's Terre Haute City Council meeting in City Hall, when a large crowd of fire and police department personnel filled the room.
The large group in the audience was responding to recent hints by some council members that local public safety costs need to be looked at closer, possibly to the point of a reduction in staff.
Resident Vickie Payne initially addressed the council regarding her sewer bill, city golf course costs and proposed storm water fees. She surprised the standing room only crowd with her strong stance in support of public safety costs just five minutes into the meeting.
"As far as these guys go, I've been in a burning building trying to save my son in  91. I know how terrifying that is," she said. "For somebody to complain about how much we're paying for them [firefighters] -- that's [B.S]"
Her comment was met with thundering applause.
Jake Chalos, vice president of the firefighters union, said he's concerned about "misguided information that's being put out there about the department."
Chief Jeff Fisher is expected to give a presentation with more details on salaries and costs during next month's City Council meeting, following a presentation given by Chief of Terre Haute Police Shawn Keen last night.
Keen noted that he understands the confusion in the community regarding the budget, as public safety is the biggest expense in any city. He agrees with Chalos that much of the confusion related to staffing and compensation is due to hearing so many different things from various sources.
With a PowerPoint presentation, Keen outlined costs and training within the department in attempt to justify the costs to the public.
"You can't make comparisons between cities with different government structures. What I've done here, is try to eliminate some of that bias," he said, pointing to a slide showing data for staffing in several cities in the state with similar crime rates and structure.
According to the data, he said the department is not overstaffed. In response to a recent suggestion of cutting up to 30 percent of workforce, he urged the council to think about the impact of reduction on the community.
"To put that in context for the Terre Haute Police Department, that's 39 officers," Keen said, adding, "Essentially, we could keep some number of officers on the street, but have no personnel available to follow up on crimes and process crime scenes -- which would release evidence or police reports to citizens. I don't think that's a responsible decision."
Keen also stressed that there is misinformation regarding police department salaries, and in fact, looking at the specific marketplace, he believes Terre Haute falls just under average.
"When the question comes about 'Are the citizens paying too much for public safety? ' I'd argue, they're not."
He said there are more costs involved than some realize, including training and education.
"This is not 1950 or the 60s, where we just hand people guns and badges," Keen said. "There's a lot of skills required, a lot of training required."
In council business:
The council did not pass an ordinance for rezoning property at 2814 Hulman Street after many residents spoke out against proposed construction of 16 duplexes in the neighborhood. They argued that the project would create noise and traffic, threatening the character of the neighborhood.
Despite a strong argument in favor of the project for the developer, attorney Richard Shagley failed to garner enough support. The council voted 5-4 against the rezoning.
Vice President Karrum Nasser motioned in favor of the ordinance with Councilman Earl Elliott seconding the motion. Councilman Neil Garrison and Councilwoman Martha Crossen also voted in favor of the ordinance.
In opposition: Councilwoman Amy Auler; President Todd Nation and Councilmen George Azar, Don Morris and Curtis DeBaun.
© Indiana Central News. All rights reserved. Terre Haute, Indiana
News Writer: Lucy Perry