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HAMMOND | Department heads met before the City Council on Saturday for hearings on the $63.4 million budget proposal for 2015.

City Controller Heather Garay said the entire civil city sector has been asked to cut anywhere they can “and they have,” she said.

The council is expected vote on an ordinance Monday to transfer nearly $4.5 million from gaming revenue to the city’s general fund. If passed, that along with other revenue sources the city is working toward would balance the budget.

“We will not be in the red,” Garay said. “We will be in the black.”

Council members have been asked to contribute gaming revenue they receive into the general fund.

Councilman Homero "Chico" Hinojosa, D-6th, said the casino funds council members received for projects in their districts used to be $2.7 million. Last year it was $1.3 million. For 2015 it will be $500,000.

“No more money for major projects,” he said.

Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. receives three times the amount of casino funds the council members do. Last year that total was $4 million. Garay said the mayor will receive the same $500,000 as the council members will in 2015.

Councilwoman Janet Venecz, D-at large, who as an at-large council member doesn’t receive gaming money for city projects, said 2015 is going to be a tight year. She said gaming revenue originally was not supposed to be used to shore up the budget.

“We’ve had to do that over the years because of the shortfall,” she said. “This cash cow is coming to an end.”

Garay said the city is trying to generate new revenue and look at new revenue sources, so when the time comes it’s not as reliant on the gaming revenue to support the city’s civil sector.

Hinojosa questioned Garay over funds used for overtime pay for security provided by Hammond police during this year’s Festival of the Lakes.

At a council meeting in June, Hinojosa said a report he received stated Hammond police working security at the festival were paid for out of Henry Unit money — a fund to bolster patrols on the streets.

Garay said police have multiple overtime accounts to pull from but in 2014 she believes festival security pay was pulled from Henry Unit money.

In June Hammond Police Chief John Doughty told The Times that officers working the fest were paid from the regular police overtime account, about $40,000 for five days. He also said their presence at the fest does not affect manpower on the street.

“It’s one of my concerns — why are we using Henry Unit money to pay for police festival security,” Hinojosa said. “It should come out of festival money. If you make money, pay for it there. If you lost money, the mayor pays for it out of his funds.”

The council will discuss the budget further during its meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall.


Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.