Council members react to cuts proposed by Elkhart mayor
Posted: 09/02/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Dan Spalding
But they also threw cold water on the idea of somehow considering a revamped trash fee to help offset a projected budget deficit.
Moore announced a slew of cuts Friday — much of which involve personnel — and at the same time said he might submit a reworked proposal that would phase in a trash fee over two years.
While acknowledging council can’t consider the same proposal for another year, Moore said he thinks they could look at alternatives.
Resurrecting the trash debate less than two weeks after Moore’s proposal was defeated didn’t sit well with Kyle Hannon, a Republican in his first year on council.
Hannon questioned whether another proposal would be legally acceptable and thinks the timing is not right.
“I would caution the mayor from doing that too early until the public and the council has a chance to digest the full budget,” Hannon said.
Moore said he believes council’s opposition to the trash fee did not reflect community sentiment. Hannon and other Republicans disagree sharply on that topic.
“The calls I’ve gotten — the majority does not want the trash fee. But we’ll see,” Hannon said. “Now that he’s put some cuts on the table, we’ll see how the public reacts.”
Moore mentioned the trash fee repeatedly in a news release announcing his proposed cuts that are now necessary without revenues from the trash fee.
Moore said without the added revenues from a trash fee, council has forced his hand to make difficult cuts, some of which will affect economic development.
“I feel like our city is doing some really great things … now it looks like maybe the city of Elkhart can’t be as much involved in these public-private partnerships as they have been. I’m angry about that and frustrated as well,” Moore said.
Republican councilman Brian Thomas said the mayor would be better served by setting aside some of the emotions.
“I know he’s all about jobs and loyalty and that’s fine, but when it comes down to brass tacks, running a city is like running a business. You gotta take the emotion out of it.”
Thomas said he isn’t interested in looking at the trash fee again this year, but said his opinion might change next year if the city continues to see its property tax revenues fall.
For now, too many people are struggling with their own finances to face another household expense, Thomas said.
Thomas joined three other Republicans and one Democrat in helping block the trash plan Aug. 20.
“If we’re still in a hole, I would probably re-think my support for a modified trash fee,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, council members got their first look Friday at how Moore plans to cut the budget.
Among the mayor’s plans: Eliminate six unfilled positions plus the neighborhood coordinator’s job while mandating furloughs for city workers including police and firefighters.
Moore’s plan also cuts funding to several economic development groups, including one that oversees the Elkhart Jazz Festival.
Thomas said he was glad to see the mayor lay out his plans.
Thomas and Hannon both said they like the idea of scaling back employment levels by way of attrition.
With 600 or so employees, the city often has turnover in personnel, which allows city leaders to continually look at the positions, Thomas said.
Democrat councilman Rod Roberson, while calling many of the proposals “undesirable,” questioned whether cutting economic development and money targeted for Elkhart Jazz Fest is the best choice.
How the cuts could affect jazz fest was unclear. Jazz fest is administered by Downtown Elkhart Inc., which stands to see its funding reduced from $100,000 to $50,000.
Mike Huber, president of DEI, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Roberson said he’s leery of the impact the proposed cuts have on what has become the city’s premiere festival.
“We do have that asset and I just don’t want to lose it, so yes, it makes me a little fearful,” Robinson said.
Diana Lawson, a leader in the South Main Street revitalization project, works closely with Huber on downtown projects and expressed concern about how DEI might be hindered in its long-term plans with SoMa.
DEI is in the midst of relocating offices and is expected to have a key role in carrying out some of the goals initiated by SoMa, Lawson said.
Moore’s proposals were somewhat expected, Lawson said.
“I don’t know how he could do anything else,” Lawson said, referring to the mayor. “He was backed into a corner. He had to do what he said he was going to do.”
“It is definitely going to make an impact on the life of the community,” Lawson said.