EAST CHICAGO | The possibility of pay cuts for city employees to prevent further layoffs loomed large in last week's discussions about next year's budget.
While the workforce has been pared by more than 7 percent this year through pink slips and retirement attrition, the current 2013 budget proposal still comes in nearly $3 million over expected revenue.
Casino money remains available to plug the gap as in years past, but City Council members at their weekly finance committee meeting Thursday agreed that a reduction in the reliance on shrinking gambling income needed to continue.
Gaming funds of $6 million were used to overcome this year's budget deficit, down from a peak of $13 million in 2010 and $8 million in 2011.
To balance the budget, Mayor Anthony Copeland this year combined layoffs, attrition and mandatory unpaid furlough days for remaining employees, as well as the merging of city building and code enforcement, and multi-media and information technology departments.
The city's Emergency Medical Services department also was privatized.
These cuts reduced by 15 percent last year's budget of $30.8 million, but the city would still come up short next year even in the unlikely collection of all property taxes owed.
"We need to concentrate on across-the-board cuts for everyone," said Council President Gilda Orange, D-6th.
But in the wake of this year's aggressive budget reduction, many city departments don't have a whole lot more to cut, said City Controller Kimberly Anderson.
"If you're seeking, say, a 10 percent cut across the board," Anderson said Thursday, "I'm not sure where some departments will be able to find that."
One place could be the council's annual budget of $617,505, said Karl Cender, the council's financial adviser.
Though a glitch in current state law prevents council members from reducing their own salaries — likewise those of other elected officials including the city clerk and city judge — other line-item expenses could be applied elsewhere, Cender said.
The council last year gave up its money for travel and promotions, making such expenses the responsibility of each council member out of his or her annual salary of $42,356.
Some $33,000 remains in the council's untouched 2012 appropriation for travel and promotions.
That money could possibly be used to settle accounts with City Judge Sonya Morris, Cender said. The judge is seeking $28,500 in alleged underpayment to her court over the past eight years, a claim recently affirmed by the State Board of Accounts.
Council Attorney Stephen Bower said the city court and city clerk's office — which, along with police and firefighters account for nearly 70 percent of the city's payroll — should be included in any belt-tightening moves.
"How can we look at police and fire budgets, but not at the court and the clerk?" Bower asked. "Asking the clerk and the judge what they can do is perfectly reasonable."
Council finance committee workshops on the 2013 budget will continue each Thursday at noon in City Hall, 4525 Indianapolis Blvd.
The current budget timetable calls for a public hearing later this month and final City Council adoption in late October.