Moore defends plan to forgive debt to hall

Elkhart City Council began the first of six hearings Tuesday as they look over the proposed 2013 budget.
Posted on Sept. 19, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore defended his plans to forgive a debt owed to the city by the RV/MH Hall of Fame Tuesday night at the outset of budget hearings with the city council.

Representatives of the hall were recently given an offer by the mayor in which the city would waive the $115,000 the hall owes in fees dating back several years if the hall begins making regular monthly payments as part of its compact agreement for sewer service.

The hall quit making payments in 2009, claiming its not-for-profit status should exempt it from paying.

The topic is a hot button issue for some as the city works to reduce its budget by nearly $2 million for 2013.

Moore said the city was left with little choice but to reach some kind of agreement.

Otherwise, seeking payment would likely result in a lawsuit and could have pushed the hall toward bankruptcy, Moore told the council.

“We feel we did not have any other option,” Moore told the council.

Two council members on Monday raised the issue after reading published reports that a deal was in the works. A trade publication recently reported an agreement had already been reached.

Moore said he expects an agreement could be reached within weeks.

Councilman David Henke said after Tuesday’s meeting he thought the city should have attempted negotiations sooner. Moore said he and representatives from the hall had met several times.

Meanwhile, Moore also informed the council he plans to reimburse the city for his portion of the salary for 2013 for a sum equal to five days of pay since all city workers face furloughs next year if his budget plan is adopted by the council.

Fire and police will have three furlough days and other city workers will face five days without pay under Moore’s plan.

Under state law, elected officials cannot have their pay reduced through a furlough.

The amount Moore intends to return to the city is more than $1,500.

He is one of three elected office holders in city hall. The others are the city judge and the clerk.

Moore said he believes reimbursing the city is the right thing to do since other colleagues will be losing pay under his direction.

The mayor’s budget was one of eight department budgets reviewed Tuesday by the council. Others included budgets for city council, city clerk, city court, the legal department and several probation budgets.

The council approved seven of the eight budgets unanimously. Henke voted against the legal budget because he said the department appears to be over-burdened in part because one of its attorneys is doing work for the city’s utilities department, which he thinks could be done for less if it were contracted to a private company.

The council will continue its budget sessions tonight and Thursday and next week on Sept. 25, 26 and 27. All of the meetings begin at 6 p.m. and take place in council chambers.

Editor's Note: Councilman David Henke contends one of the attorneys employed by the city is misusing her time by performing duties for the utilities department. In fact, the attorney was hired by the city to work for the utility department but does report to the legal office. The Truth regrets any confusion.

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