Portage mayor lifts hiring freeze

2013-07-23T14:30:00Z 2013-07-24T11:05:03Z Portage mayor lifts hiring freezeJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | Portage Mayor James Snyder said he has lifted the city-wide hiring freeze.

"Early and projected results of trash automation are beginning to have an easing effect on the fragile city budget," he wrote in a prepared statement released Tuesday. He added early retirement packages, which have reduced employee and health care costs, have had the greatest impact on the turnaround.

Snyder estimated the city will have nearly a $1 million surplus at the end of the year, "if we continue on the same course."

"This by no means is a reason to celebrate; however, it is a reason to thank department heads for their long, hard and arduous work ethic in Portage's quick budget turnaround," Snyder wrote. He added his administration will continue to "exercise caution and prudence" in making decisions affecting the city.

Snyder imposed the hiring freeze last month, drawing the criticism of the Democrat-majority City Council and Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham.

Snyder cited concerns over an impending tax draw and affects of an appeal won by U.S. Steel for implementing the freeze.

Democrats said the money was available to fund hirings, particularly in the police and fire departments.

Officials outside of the mayor's office learned of the hiring freeze when it was announced at police and fire merit board meetings that the boards needed to halt the hiring process. The freeze affected all city departments.

Stidham said Tuesday he was informed the hiring freeze had been lifted Monday by a department head.

"I don't know what changed from the council meeting earlier this month to last Thursday," Stidham said. "The money was always there to bring police and fire up to staff. I still don't understand what the justification was."

Stidham said he does not dispute Snyder's figure of a $1 million surplus by the end of the year, but added that is not unusual and the city entered this year with a surplus half that size.

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