Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

October 3, 2013

City's budget talks proceed

GOSHEN — Initial discussion regarding the city’s 2014 budget proceeded virtually without a hitch Tuesday evening, with City Council members voting to approve the proposed budget on first reading with very little discussion on individual department budgets.

While a majority of the city’s department budgets elicited little to no comment from the council, one area that did receive some tweaking Tuesday was the request by several departments to add new employees or fill vacant positions.

During the council’s annual retreat this past July, numerous department heads went before the council with passionate pleas for additional manpower. As support for their requests, the council was reminded that the past few years have not been easy for city government, with events such as the recession that reared its head in 2008 coupled with state-mandated property tax caps combining to deal a significant blow to the city’s coffers.

In reaction to that dramatic loss in revenue, many departments were forced to significantly reign in spending, which in some cases meant the elimination of positions or the decision not to fill vacancies.

In an effort to remedy some of that hardship now that the economy appears to be turning itself around, the 2014 budget as initially proposed had called for the hiring of several new positions as well as the filling of several vacancies.

However, during Tuesday’s meeting, the council appeared ready to step back slightly from that initial promise due to concerns that the addition of so many new or refilled positions may overextend the budget beyond what is prudent.

In light of those concerns, Councilman Jeremy Stutsman made a motion to amend the 2014 budget ordinance to include the removal of several positions being requested by the Goshen Police Department, Street Department and Parks Department. Such removal, he said, would allow the council to shave approximately $250,000 from the 2014 budget.

“Mr. Mayor, I think as always you’ve done a great job of putting a budget together,” Stutsman said, “but since we are potentially using some of our Rainy Day funds (to help fund the budget), I just want to be a little more cautious adding some of the employees in.”

Stutsman’s motion as presented allows the Goshen Police Department two filled vacancies, but removes the additional request of two new officers. In addition, the Street Department would get a vacancy filled, but not an additional new position, and the Parks Department would get two maintenance positions, but not a requested administrative position.

“I don’t at all think that these requests were unfounded, but we’re going to be adding eight (positions),” Stutsman said, “so I’d just like to slow it down a little bit and make sure we know where we’re at with our budgets.”

The council agreed, and Stutsman’s motion was approved unanimously. In an effort to soften the blow slightly, Stutsman made a point of promising to work with the council over the next year to try and get the remainder of the unfilled positions added to the 2015 budget.

Following the vote, Council President Jim McKee thanked the city’s department heads for all the hard work they’ve done in trying to keep their budgets as lean as possible.

“I’ve talked to various department heads, and I think Jeremy obviously has too, and I appreciated their cooperative attitudes,” McKee said. “They were very helpful, and I’d just like to publicly say that.”

With the proposed budget’s first reading now approved, the ordinance will now move on for a second reading and possible passage most likely during the council’s upcoming Oct. 15 meeting.

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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