As members of the Portage City Council, we have a fiduciary responsibility to protect taxpayers. That is the job we are elected to do. Beginning in January of this year, it became clear the time had come to begin protecting the ratepayers of the stormwater and sanitary utility as well.

The reasons the Portage City Council voted to take over the Utility Service Board are well documented. It is an $18 million-a-year entity that was being financially mismanaged by Mayor James Snyder. Hundreds of thousands were being spent on non-utility related employees, software, leased vehicles and conferences. The utility was being used as a piggy bank by the mayor. In 2016, he went as far as attempting to pay his personal defense attorney with $93,000 in utility funds. The time had come to put this practice to an end.

In February of this year, the council voted unanimously to take control of the board. It was comprised of seven members, and Snyder served as its chairman. Each board member was compensated $2,750 a year, and the chairman was paid $30,000.

When we voted to take over the board, the ordinance included language that removed the salaries. This was a requirement of two provisions of Indiana state law that prevent increasing an elected official’s salary within the year and prevent elected officials from holding two lucrative positions.

At no time was this to be considered a promise to not take additional pay for additional work. Any suggestion by other elected officials is only intended to mislead the residents of Portage.

Since taking over the utility board, the members have worked diligently to:

  • Establish a balanced budget (a first for the utility).
  • Put the elected clerk-treasurer in charge of overseeing utility finances.
  • Refinance a bond saving more than $1 million.
  • End the leasing of lavish vehicles, costing more than $2,400 a month.
  • Refuse to pay more than $20,000 in legal fees to an Indianapolis law firm hired by the previous board to provide inaccurate information.
  • Settle a lawsuit that had cost more than $60,000 in unnecessary legal fees from an attorney that represented the mayor personally.
  • Form multiple committees working to keep utility project budgets in line.
  • Serve as liaison members to utility divisions to create clear lines of communication.
  • End the micro-management of day-to-day operations and trust appointed department heads to make decisions for their own divisions.
  • Prioritize bond projects, putting public health and safety first by placing needs before wants.
  • Curb the costs of exorbitant architecture and engineering fees.
  • Streamline billing and payroll.

This is a short list of what we have achieved. During the next year, we will be working even harder to ensure the utility is being fiscally responsible with your dollars. You will never hear us complain about doing the work. You will never hear us whine about it as some have suggested we have been doing.

However, it is our belief if a person takes on additional work, as we have, an increase in compensation is a reasonable request.

We all understood taking over the board would mean more work for council members. All of the work and accomplishments listed above have been done without additional compensation.

We believe collectively that no future mayor, regardless of party, should have complete control over millions of dollars without council oversight, as was the case under the previous board.

Understandably, there will be opposition to an increase in pay for any elected official. We hope to prove ourselves worthy over the coming months.

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Collin Czilli is a Portage city councilman representing the 5th District. Council members Mark Oprisko, Sue Lynch, Liz Modesto, Pat Clem and Scott Williams contributed to this column.

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