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City Hall in East Chicago

Jonathan Miano, The Times

EAST CHICAGO — The budget battle continued between the East Chicago City Council and Mayor Anthony Copeland with the council's action on Monday to override vetoes issued by Copeland last week.

The ordinances establishing appropriations and tax rates for both the civil city and sanitary district were not approved by the council and signed by the mayor prior to the state's Nov. 1 deadline. This could mean the city will have to revert back to its 2017 budgets and property tax levies, unless determined otherwise by the Office of Local Finance.

A message left with the office to find out when that decision would be made was not returned Tuesday. 

City Attorney Carla Morgan read to the council a letter from Copeland that gave reasons for his disapproval of both budget ordinances the council approved on Oct. 30, as well as a 2018 salary ordinance for police and fire personnel the council approved that same date.

The letter stated, in part, the council did not follow proper budget procedures according to state law since a public hearing for both budgets was held before a vote was taken to introduce the budget ordinances.

In the letter, Copeland also said after lack of a quorum caused the Oct. 23 meeting — at which the council was to vote on the budget ordinances — to be canceled, the Oct. 30 meeting was not advertised as required on the state's Gateway website that provides budget notices for local government.

The council had made amendments to the civil city budget that included decreasing the amount designated for the law department, allowing $500,000 to go toward 2 percent raises for police and fire and $27,000 for council travel and education expenses. The $27,000 broken evenly between council members would be $3,000 each.

Further, it sought to take away Copeland's authority to spend gaming money without council consent.

"The council had exceeded its authority with regard to certain amendments and failed to adhere to the state's budget process," said Copeland, via the letter.

He said the police and fire salary ordinance also was not approved by the council and signed by him prior to a Nov. 1 deadline, required by state law. Additionally, introducing substantial amendments to the civil city budget at the last moment deprived the public of its legal right to object to the amended budget.

Copeland previously stated that reverting to the 2017 civil city budget would mean the city will have about $4 million less in its general fund; in his letter, he said the loss in the property tax levy will be negligible, but that "any levy which may be lost was lost because of the council's grievous and repeated violations of the state budget laws."

Steve Dalton, the council's financial adviser, said he projects a loss of about $1.9 million in cash receipts from property taxes, if the city reverts to the previous civil city and sanitary district budgets.

The council needed a two-thirds majority to override Copeland's vetoes.

It voted 6-3 twice to override the budget ordinance vetoes as Councilwoman Myrna Maldonado, D-1st, Councilmen Lenny Franciski, D-2nd, Robert Garcia, D-5th, and at-large Democratic Councilmen Richard Medina and Kenneth Monroe voted in the majority along with Councilman Emiliano Perez, D-at-large. 

Councilwomen Brenda Walker, D-3rd, Christine Vasquez, D-4th, and Gilda Orange, D-6th, voted in the minority.

The council voted 7-2 to override Copeland's veto of the police and fire salary ordinance as Vasquez joined the majority on that decision.

Copeland's letter stated that the budget process began in June, and he made staff available to the council to ask questions of and request documents.

Perez did not agree with Copeland's statement regarding the sharing of information.

"I personally voted the way I voted because information that I requested at the budget hearings regarding the law department were not provided to me," Perez said.

Perez said he was surprised and disappointed to read of Copeland's previous comment that it is his belief the council was guilty of, "illegal actions and pirating the budget."

"This council didn't pirate anything," Perez said. "This council, by zeroing out the gaming budget, was attempting to stop lumping all the money in one place and them being able to shuffle it wherever they wanted."

Perez said the council never indicated it would not continue to fund any of the mayor's projects.

"If we've made some mistakes up here, all the more reason this council needs that $3,000 to go get educated," Perez said. "That's what the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns does. They take new council people and they inform you on the law."

Garcia asked Dalton, whose responsibility it is to post budget information on Gateway, what happened, and Dalton said only the city controller has log-in rights. 

"The controller controls the Gateway access at all times," Dalton said.

A message seeking more information on this process left with the controller, Val Gomez, was not immediately returned Tuesday. 

Garcia and Dalton both disagreed with a statement Copeland had made that a 3 percent raise for all city workers, including police and fire, already had been included in the 2018 budget.

"There was not," Garcia said. "We never discussed it."

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