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Republicans, upset with furlough proposals for fire and police, push through $429,657 in reductions in addition to $1.9 million in other cuts.

Posted on Oct. 16, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — The city council’s Republican block on Monday night pushed through additional cuts that will eliminate eight more positions in city government in 2013.

Republicans, upset with plans to establish furloughs involving police and firefighters, called the $429,657 in new cuts a permanent step toward fiscal stewardship while mayor Dick Moore called it a step backward for the city.

Among the positions that were defunded: The mayor’s executive assistant, two supervisors, a code enforcement officer and deep cuts in personnel at the National New York Central Railroad Museum and the Tolson Center.

Also cut were wages for a police officer and firefighter positions, both of which are currently unfilled.

Republicans Mary Olson, Kyle Hannon, David Henke and Brian Thomas were joined by Democrat Ron Troyer in voting for the cuts in a 5-4 vote. Those opposing were Democrats Rod Roberson, Tonda Hines, Brent Curry and Dave Osborne.

Moore, who had authored $1.9 million in his own cuts that were adopted by the council, asked that they pass the budget without further reductions, but Olson quickly proposed an amendment with a long list of budget reductions that were eventually approved.

Her amendment also reduces $5,000 for the Center for Community Justice and $12,000 for Michiana Area Council On Government, which is heavily involved in regional public transportation services.

Monday’s action was the final formal stage in the budget process, but Moore could propose shifting money around to avoid some of the personnel cuts.

The vote culminated weeks of tough talk by Republicans who suggested there was too much fat in the city’s operating budget.

Henke said they hope that Monday’s move would eliminate the need for furloughs.

Republicans voiced concern during budget hearings over the plan to force police and fire into taking three days off without pay. Other city workers are facing five furlough days.

The status of those furloughs remained uncertain.

Representatives of police and fire unions had threatened legal action if the furloughs were enforced.

Democrats appeared dismayed at the breadth of the reductions and warned that it would impact the quality of life in the city. Based on the $1.9 million in cuts, they said Monday’s cuts were unnecessary.

“Your vote was a vote to discontinue the progressive direction that the city had been going in,” Moore said.

Troyer, who has aligned himself with Republicans on a vote that blocked the mayor’s proposed trash fee earlier this year, said he doesn’t think Monday’s decision will hurt the quality of life in Elkhart.

Henke and others said Monday’s action was aimed at eliminating the need for furloughs, which Moore had previously cast as a temporary situation that could be lifted if the city’s finances improved.

Republicans said more permanent solutions were needed.

The Republican-led coalition had argued the city could achieve significant savings by rebidding several of the city’s contracts and outlined numerous ideas in a press conference last month.

Monday’s shift in focus to personnel left Osborne surprised.

“What’s up with that?” Osborne asked rhetorically.

Troyer and the Republicans said the cuts were a move toward fiscal stewardship.

Hines said such remarks about stewardship were “immature.”

Moore begrudgingly proposed $1.9 million in cuts after his trash fee proposal was defeated in August. Moore had sought the $11.35 monthly fee to offset the loss of property tax revenues, which have been declining for several years.

Republicans on the council led the charge against the plan, saying they believe residents can’t afford the cost of the fee and urged Moore to trim the budget.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, the council had approved plans by Moore to eliminate seven positions, six of which have been unfilled for months.

The council had already approved reducing funds for a handful of economic development groups, including Downtown Elkhart Inc., which oversees the Elkhart Jazz Festival which will see its funding cut in half.

The 2013 budget also slashes pay for seasonal workers and overtime.

The city is also set to permanently close the municipal golf course, which has not relied on property taxes to operate, but has seen a supplemental fund dwindle in recent years.

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