Mayor, council continue battle over hiring freeze

2013-07-06T17:30:00Z 2013-07-06T21:19:41Z Mayor, council continue battle over hiring freezeJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | Mayor James Snyder said he won't lift the hiring freeze he implemented despite objections from City Council members.

"It is crippling our Police and Fire. The money is there. I think you are being stubborn," City Council President Sue Lynch told Snyder at last week's council meeting during a sometimes heated debate.

Snyder implemented the freeze last month, which put a halt to filling open positions in both the Police and Fire departments. Snyder said he was awaiting word on the city's property tax draw and on the affects of a property tax appeal won by U.S. Steel.

The latest volley in the battle between the Republican mayor and the Democratic council members occurred during a council budget committee meeting and the full council meeting that followed.

Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham reported to the council that the spring property tax draw was a "shockingly good number" and that on the revenue side of the budget, numbers are up with increases in building permit, trash and ambulance fees collected. The trash and ambulance fee collections are up $160,000 each.

"We have more than sufficient revenue to fund the 2013 budget as passed," Stidham told the budget committee.

He also reported that other areas of the budget, such as health insurance, are looking good.

He said an area of concern is the city's self-insurance fund for casualty, property and legal claims, primarily because of two lawsuits which will require the city to transfer money to cover those claims.

"I really don't have a reason for the hiring freeze," Councilman Matt Scheuer said after Stidham's presentation.

"I don't want to sound like were are out of the budget woods, but I feel there is enough to cover the budget," said Stidham.

During the council meeting, Snyder told council members that he wasn't ready to lift the hiring freeze yet.

"All that I'm trying to do is be circumspect and hold the reins and have something set back as an emergency," Snyder said following the meeting. "I will continue to be frugal. We have to have money left over at the end of the year."

Snyder said he also believes Stidham's numbers on the tax draw may be a bit optimistic.

The spring tax draw was some $200,000 less than the 2012 spring draw. Snyder said the city received 48.75 percent of its property tax money the past spring. If that number were doubled by the fall draw, it would be more than 97 percent, he said. However, historically, the city receives less money in the fall draw than it does in the spring.

"That shows why we are showing pause," said Snyder, adding the freeze, along with the early retirements have allowed the city to work through budget issues without employees losing their jobs.

He also told the council that "there are some employee situations coming up that will allow us to lift the freeze."

Snyder didn't elaborate on those situations following the meeting.

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