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Councilman advocates not passing budget

Elkhart City Council will vote on a 2014 budget plan Oct. 21, but one councilman is advocating not passing a budget.

Posted on Oct. 7, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

Editor's note: This story was revised Tuesday, Oct. 8, to correct an error. The city of Elkhart has not yet resolved the sewer dispute.

ELKHART — David Henke thinks Mayor Dick Moore’s 2014 budget plan is seriously flawed.

And he thinks the mayor’s veto last year of a Republican-led budget amendment has left the Elkhart City Council powerless to do much of anything related to the budget.

As a result, the Republican council member says the council should not pass a budget for 2014, meaning the city would continue with the existing 2013 spending plan for the next year.

Whether he has much support for such a maneuver remains to be seen, but officials need to wrap up decisions on the budget in less than two weeks.

The council on Monday, Oct. 7, announced it will vote on a series of salary ordinances and the entire budget plan on Oct. 21.

Moore’s proposed $54 million budget is about $2 million over the current spending level and much of that is connected to anticipated rising costs for city employee health care.

The budget includes 2 percent raises for all city employees.

Moore said he could not recall a time when the Elkhart City Council had not passed a budget and said doing so would be “irresponsible” and would leave city government short-changed in numerous areas.

Among Henke’s concerns:

The budget didn’t reflect any funding for the Greater Elkhart Fund for 2014.

City controller Steve Malone said he left funding for the Greater Elkhart Fund blank for 2014 because of the ongoing sewer dispute. Revenues from compact sewer fees are channeled into that fund, but the council has not yet resolved the dispute.

Moore said it would have been “terribly reckless on our part” to set aside money for that fund “based on the uncertainties we had seen so far.”

Henke is also bothered by the fact the city is seeking five new positions for the Lerner Theatre and downtown revitalization in the Lerner budget, but those positions were not represented in the mayor’s budget packet.

Moore said the administration will seek an appropriation for three of those positions when they are ready.

Those two issues, Henke said, represent an incomplete picture of what Moore is seeking and “falsely” reports a low cost of operations.

Henke and other Republicans are still mindful of Moore’s veto last year of a Republican amendment to the budget, which Republicans at the time complained bitterly. As a result, they might be less inclined to offer alternative ideas, Henke said.

“It makes the council impotent in making change on behalf of people they serve. In my opinion, the only real affect we have … (is) pass a budget or not pass a budget,” Henke said. “Amendments don’t work.”

Democrat councilman David Osborne scoffed at the suggestion.

Osborne said he’s “not buying” Henke’s claim that the council is powerless and noted the mayor has a legal prerogative to use his line-item veto if he doesn’t like certain amendments.

“We have to pass a budget. I’ve never even contemplated or thought about not passing a budget,” Osborne said.

Osborne looked momentarily stunned at the idea.

“That’s starting to sound a lot like Washington, D.C.,” Osborne said.

Moore said he could not recall the city council ever choosing to not pass a budget.

Moore then offered a long list of specific items that need funding in 2014. Among those were health care costs, trash removal and fire-fighting equipment and the proposed salary hikes.

Another Republican council member, Brian Dickerson, said Monday night he is aware of the no-pass strategy and said he’s undecided on how he’ll vote.

Possibly the biggest sticking point is the five positions for the Lerner. Henke and other Republicans have voiced concern over using revenues from tax increment finance district to pay for three of those positions.

Henke said he considers using TIF dollars for a such a use to be an “abuse.”

But Henke also said he would support paying for some of the positions from the general fund.

“If they feel that that’s what it’s going to sustain that level of performance or expand, I’m with it,” he said.

Republicans have questioned whether using TIF money for staff positions is legal.

Moore said Monday he would seek a legal opinion on the issue from the state.

The two other remaining Lerner positions would be paid with private funding.

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