EAST CHICAGO — Mayor Anthony Copeland has issued vetoes for ordinances adopted by the City Council on Oct. 30 that established civil city and sanitary district budgets for 2018 and a salary ordinance for police and fire personnel.
The fact that the budget ordinances were not signed by Copeland before a Nov. 1 deadline could mean the city will have to revert back to its 2017 budgets and tax levies.
Copeland objected to amendments the council made to the civil city budget in which money was moved around for different purposes.
The council voted to decrease the amount in the budget allotted for the law department so $500,000 could be used to provide 2-percent raises for police and fire and $27,000 for education and travel expenses for council members.
"We feel that they can decrease, but we feel that they don't have the power to increase," Copeland said.
He said a 3-percent raise for all city workers, including police and fire, was already included in the 2018 budget and called it "totally irresponsible" for the council to wait until Oct. 30 to approve the budgets, leaving him little time to take action.
The council had been scheduled to take a final vote on the budgets and the salary ordinance on Oct. 23, but that meeting was canceled due to lack of a quorum when five council members did not attend.
Copeland said although reverting back to the civil city budget of the previous year will mean the city will have about $4 million less in its general fund, he would rather do that than allow the council to do what he believes are "illegal actions and pirating the budget."
He said the city will be able to get by in 2018 without making cuts because it has $10 million in reserves.
"We had a balanced budget, one that didn't need to be interfered with," Copeland said.
He said there is a separate ordinance for elected officials, and the council could have asked for an additional $27,000 within that ordinance instead of drawing from the civil city budget.
"So now you want do a sleight of hand thing and give yourself a raise," Copeland said. "They are the highest-paid councilmen in the state of Indiana."
'TALKING TO OUR ATTORNEY'
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Council President Lenny Franciski, D-2nd, said he feels the council deserves that money for travel and education, and said it is money the council had previously but gave back when the city was in worse shape financially.
Franciski said he believes the council did the right thing by approving the salary ordinance giving raises for police and fire, but offered no comment regarding if raises had already been built into the 2018 budget.
"Talking to our attorney, I believe we can override his veto on the salary ordinance," Franciski said.
A vote on that will likely take place at the City Council meeting scheduled for Monday.
Copeland's belief is that the council cannot redirect money from the budget to a salary ordinance.
Franciski said the city can afford the police and fire raises called for in the salary ordinance even if the 2018 civil city budget is not increased.
"The dollars are there to cover it," Franciski said.
Copeland also vetoed the council's approval of a sanitary district budget although it was approved unanimously and with no amendments.
"We felt that they didn't even have the right to even entertain it on the 30th," Copeland said.
He said he does not believe that meeting was posted as required on the state's Gateway website that provides budget notices for local government.
City Council Attorney Stephen Bower said he was not aware of any failure to properly post the meeting.
He said one of the legal issues in dispute is whether the council can make increases within the budget if they are balanced, or if the only action the council can take is to make cuts.
Bower said he expects the civil city and sanitary district budget ordinances that were vetoed will also be on the agenda for the next council meeting, but it is unclear what will happen if the council votes to override those vetoes since the Nov. 1 deadline has passed.
"The question comes down to will the Office of Local Finance accept it," Bower said. "Will they adjust the budget or will they refuse to accept the budget and go back to the 2017 (budget)."