Goshen News, Goshen, IN

October 13, 2012

City Council member gives mayor list of proposed budget cuts

By AMANDA GRAY
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — To cut or not to cut? That’s the budgetary question before Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman.

True to his word, Goshen City councilman Tom Stump gave Kauffman a list of suggested cuts Thursday. The cuts come from conversations and suggestions from other Republican council members and local residents, Stump said, and all are provided with the goal of getting enough funds available to put money for city trash service back in the budget.

“This is something that should be worked out in a business-like manner,” Stump said. “This isn’t contentious, and I’m not meaning for it to be contentious. I’m very serious about the budget.”

The cuts focus on six or seven city employee positions, as well as funding for two programs, the city newsletter and the Community Relations Commission’s contracting services contribution, according to a letter from Stump to the mayor.

The total savings? Between $234,500 and $249,500, depending on what suggestions are taken. Trash service costs around $800,000, Kauffman has said previously, and the budget the mayor proposed to the council had a $250,000 to $350,000 surplus, depending on property tax collection rates.

This means up to $300,000 could still be needed from the Rainy Day Fund to cover trash service for 2013, if all the cuts were made and property taxes were collected at the rate Kauffman estimated.

The suggested positions to be eliminated include one position in the building department, one or both of the part-time code enforcement ordinance administrators, the city forester, the previously vacant street department position and a previously vacant park maintenance position, according to the letter.

The suggested cuts also include half of the funding for Downtown Goshen Inc., which primarily runs First Fridays events, and half the funding for the downtown facade program.

In the letter, Stump suggested the cuts to items under the general fund, in hopes that the savings from these cuts could be transferred to the Board of Public Works and Safety budget. These cuts would then provide at least some funding for the trash service, with additional funds coming from the Rainy Day Fund, he wrote in the letter.

The council members are allowed to cut from the proposed budget, but they are not allowed to add to the budget, Stump said.

He said he hopes Kauffman will work with council members and compromise on funding for trash service.

“These cuts are suggestions to the mayor,” Stump said. “I want to get this trash fee settled. I’m willing to go to great lengths to get this settled. I talked to him last night after I gave him the list, and I think he’s willing to compromise. He kind of gave us no alternative when he forced this on us.”

Kauffman said the budget was given to the council without the trash service funding intentionally.

“The budget without a trash service line points out the obvious — if we continue to pay the trash service from property taxes, other things have to give,” Kauffman said.

Kauffman said he was beginning work on a compromise that would give the council time to work on a trash fee while also not cutting these positions.

“I don’t want to attack positions or programs... Two of the positions were previously vacant, and we decided to fill them this year,” Kauffman said. “It’s not the best time to fill the vacant positions, but we are stretched thin as it is.”

The clock is ticking; the budget needs to be approved before Nov. 1, or the city reverts back to the funds set for the 2012 budget for a second year, Kauffman said. Since the budget is divided into two ordinances, one with the budgets coming from the General Fund and the other with funds coming from elsewhere, Kauffman said it is possible for half of the budget to be approved, while the other half reverts to this year’s funding.

Stump said trash service should be included in what property taxes cover because everyone benefits from it; everyone pays property taxes, and trash service is something that every home uses, unlike things like bicycle paths, according to Stump.

“Other services the city provides are not used by 100 percent of the residents,” Stump said. “I don’t feel it’s fair to institute the fee, which is just another tax.”

While 100 percent of people in Goshen may not utilize the city parks or bike paths, Kauffman said they’re still worthy of city funding.

“They are 100 percent part of our quality of place,” Kauffman said. “People move into Goshen and are amazed that they don’t have to pay a trash fee. I understand why people wouldn’t want to pay — if you are asked, do you want to pay a trash fee, or not... But I think most people understand that if property taxes go down, something has to go.”

Park Superintendent Sheri Howland said she feels some people don’t realize how much park programs and positions like the city forester impact the city.

“Someone needs to be caring for the trees,” Howland said by phone Friday afternoon. “If the city forester position is cut, there’s no one in the department to take care of the trees. We are to our limits. It’s a dilemma for our department.”

She said cutting the forester position would possibly lead to the closing of the Reith Interpretive Center.

“To give all of those benefits up for not paying a $5 trash fee — it’s disheartening,” Howland said.

Howland said the Parks and Recreation Department has already lost three positions to cuts. She said she is unsure of where work would be shifted if more positions are cut.

“Surely we can find another way to work this out without cutting this position... There comes a time when we cannot be asked to give up any more,” Howland said.