GARY — Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s administration has asked City Council members to view budget proposals presented this week as a work in progress, noting the city’s finances will look significantly different months from now under a budget crunch.
The Council’s Finance Committee kicked off budget talks this week, having each department head come before members to justify budgets for the 2019 fiscal year.
While most department budgets were presented as unchanged from 2018, some council members scrutinized the few proposals that included personnel raises, arguing the city should be doing all it can to cut down costs amid a government budget crisis.
The latest cash flow analysis shows the city will be broke by Oct. 31, prompting the administration to craft a plan to borrow up to $40 million for a sale/leaseback arrangement on its public safety building.
Consolidation of government offices and other cuts are also in the works to combat the city’s $17 million structural deficit.
Council members appeared frustrated multiple times during the two-day hearing process, as some department heads presented inaccurate budget documents, citing issues with computer software or human error.
Dayna Bennett, the mayor’s deputy chief, told members the city must present a budget by the state’s Nov. 1 deadline.
Budgeting at these levels helps the city maximize the levy, she said. The city will have a better grasp on its true fiscal condition after that deadline when the administration’s “financial recovery plan,” that includes office consolidation and other cuts, starts coming into play.
Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, D-6, said she questions why the city isn’t presenting the council with a truthful budget plan.
“Where are the cost cutting measures in individual departments? Where is the financial recovery plan presented with this budget?” she said.
The Gary Police Department is asking for a $9.7 million payroll to cover pay raises approved by the council years ago. Police Chief Richard Allen said a federal grant that once covered the anti-crime initiative Gary For Life coordinator salary of $51,000 has expired.
He said he plans to eliminate the $36,215 animal control supervisor position in his department offset the costs, but the city will still have to find $14,785 to cover the gap.
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“Gary For Life is an integral part of violence prevention,” Allen said.
The Gary Fire Department is seeking a $10.1 million payroll that includes money to hire new recruits and potentially bring the headcount total to 185. Last year, the department spent $903,000 in overtime. Sick leave policies are under review with the union so overtime costs are deterred.
Aimbrell Holmes, administrator for Gary City Court, said while her department’s salary bottom line remains the same as 2018, some people would receive pay increases while others move to part-time.
Council members questioned why select workers in that office are receiving raises.
“One of the issues right now is we’re in a bit of a pickle. If we could decrease the bottom line, that would be good,” Sparks-Wade said.
The Gary/Chicago International Airport plans to operate with a roughly $4.3-million budget, including a $61,000 increase in salary for the full-time director position.
The city council’s budget includes the hiring of part-time college interns, an increase for travel and education, and decreases for telephones and postage. The council’s budget of $837,403 will remain unchanged over 2018.
Evelyn Diaz, supervisor for the city’s traffic department, said her department’s budget remains unchanged for the most part. An analysis of traffic signals found 93 lights in the city are not working. The estimated cost of repairs is about $1 million.
“For the last several years, the traffic control department has been ‘Band-Aiding’ the problem, so the traffic controls assessed this year,” Diaz said.
Council President Ronald Brewer said ill-functioning traffic lights in the city are a legitimate problem in this city.
“We’ve gone year and year without doing anything. We need to make a move,” Brewer said.