Editor's Note: An abbreviated version of this story appeared in some Sunday editions. The complete report appears below.
HAMMOND | City Council members spent a combined $206,735 last year for costs on cleanup work in their districts.
Council members pay for cleanups out of their district's gaming revenue. Most of the funds that went to cleanup work were spent on placing Dumpsters in Hammond neighborhoods, according to records obtained by The Times.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the city is working to clearly define the rules for the gaming budget because spending got "sloppy" last year.
McDermott said the amount of gaming money allocated to Dumpsters and police overtime were problem areas.
"The clear-cut rules we used to have were getting more and more blurry," McDermott said. "We were caught off guard last year. It was the first year we had a problem with it."
City Councilman Al Salinas, D-2nd, spent the most on Dumpsters. Salinas paid Actin/TRI Contracting LLC of East Chicago $77,511 to place Dumpsters across his district in 2011.
In one cleanup, Salinas paid the firm $28,826 out of his district's gaming account to place Dumpsters in 22 locations, according to an invoice dated April 2011.
Salinas did not return several requests for comment as of Friday afternoon.
City Council President Michael Opinker, D-5th, paid Cline Disposal and Recycling LLC $31,600 to place Dumpsters in his district from Nov. 1-8, according to city records.
However, Opinker said he won't have any cleanups this year and will call the streets department if a constituent needs something removed. Opinker said last year was the first time he held cleanups in the 5th District.
"I feel the money should be used for other things with the tight budget these days," Opinker said.
The city already has addressed one area of the gaming budget where city officials say spending was problematic. This year the city centralized the gaming revenue given to support overtime police patrols known as Henry Units.
The city's six district council members gave a standard $45,000 a piece for a total of $270,000 to the units. McDermott also gave $135,000 of his gaming money to the patrols.
That's in comparison to the $606,000 council members gave to support overtime police patrols last year, nearly double what was spent in 2010.
"We are trying to urge councilmen to spend money where it's supposed to go, which is infrastructure for their districts," McDermott said. "That's the central core mission of gaming."
Hinojosa, D-6th, said cleanups help the streets department and his constituents tell him the Dumpsters come in handy.
However, given the budget, Hinojosa said he plans to reduce what he spends on the projects by limiting the Dumpsters to one round of use. In previous years, Dumpsters were emptied and placed back on the street, so residents could fill them a second time, Hinojosa said.
"It still is very popular with my constituents," Hinojosa said.