GOSHEN — City residents and council members remained divided over the threat of climate change vs. fears of government growth as council voted to create a Department of Environmental Resilience.
In a second reading, Goshen City Council passed the ordinance creating the new department on a 5-2 vote, after over an hour of discussion Tuesday. The department will focus on forestry, data collection, education and efficiencies, both environmental and financial.
The new department will also be able to support other departments such as the Engineering Department with stormwater education. Council also plans to hire a grant writer for the department.
“We want someone who has the ability to write grants, so we can start helping relieve the stress of the other departments,” Mayor Jeremy Stutsman said. “In the police department alone, in the last four years, we’ve brought close to $500,000 in grants. It’s very time-consuming.”
According to Stutsman, the budget for the department would be $525,000 with an overall increase in cost to the city of $152,000. The council will decide the final budgeting details for the new department in October.
Some Goshen residents spoke in favor of the ordinance, citing the threat of climate change. But other residents voiced concern about the possibility of government regulation.
The council talked about the language of the ordinance to ensure residents know there will be no regulation.
Councilman Doug Nisley said future city councils will be able to expand the government’s role with this department.
“It’s not that I am against reducing our footprint,” Nisley said. “I’m all for that … I’m not a big government guy. That’s the problem I have with this whole thing. Adding on another department, another jump-through hoop, and where it expands, we don’t know.”
Councilman Mike Orgill, who voted against the resolution, also cited big government as an issue. He said he believes in a free-market solution such as better land use.
Stutsman said he discussed putting the duties of the new department within another department. They decided the parks department did not function the same way, and wanted the new department to be free of the restaints that are on the engineering department.
“We looked at several options and landed on this (option) as being the spot that definitely allows us to create the space, to allow this discussion to continue and also creates a structure that gives direct access with other departments when needed,” Stutsman told the council.
Councilman Jim McKee, who voted for the ordinance, said he is concerned with the health of the economy. Although the economy is healthy, he said he is cautious when he sees signs from the RV business.
McKee said he remembers several years ago when the council did not have enough money to spend. But Stutsman said the council will be getting $5 million for the budget at the end of the year.
“We need to be very transparent with the public,” McKee said. “We should be able to answer questions like, ‘How much are you able to save us?’ We should be applying to things that help the taxpayer.”
This story was updated to correct the amount in grants brought in to the police department in the last four years.