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City struggles to close gap on $30M in budget cuts

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Indianapolis leaders made a pact to cut 5 percent from the already-adopted 2013 budget, but the reality might prove too difficult to stomach.

After weeks of presentations, city and county agencies so far have come up with $16.8 million in potential cuts, or about 60 percent of the target. Even that level of cuts would include some potentially controversial moves, such as laying off prosecutors and offering furloughs—unpaid time off—to police officers.

Ryan Vaughn, chief of staff for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, said almost every agency presented cuts that would affect personnel.

“People provide services, so you have to be very strategic about what you focus on and what you can find to outsource or eliminate," Vaughn said.

The review was part of a multi-part compromise between Ballard and the Democratic City-County Council on the $1.1 billion 2013 budget. Ballard agreed to undo a line-item veto of $32 million destined for county agencies if the council would approve tax increases and participate in the 5-percent budget cuts.

The next step is for Ballard and Council President Maggie Lewis to decide what’s acceptable. Ballard, who did not attend the presentations, hasn’t seen all the details yet, Vaughn said.

Lewis could not be reached for comment Monday morning.

Vaughn doesn’t think Ballard and Lewis will accept all of the $16.8 million in cuts that have been presented. He added, “I can’t imagine a scenario in which the council or the mayor is willing to lay off police officers.”

Not meeting the budget-cut target this year leaves the city with less cash to cover future deficits. City Controller Jeff Spalding has pegged the ongoing gap between revenue and expenses at $50 million.

Part of that has been addressed with tax hikes on car rentals and tickets to downtown sports venues. Ballard also wants the council to eliminate the homestead property-tax credit, which would free up $8 million in income-tax revenue. (The credit, which is separate from the more lucrative homestead deduction, is subsidized by income taxes.)

Other city-county councilors who sat in on the budget presentations are at a loss for answers.

“I do know this much. The public safety agencies are not going to be able to make up this budget gap,” said Councilor Mary Moriarty-Adams, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee. There’s so much interaction among the agencies that cuts in one area tend to shift burdens to others, she said.

The city has the option of raising a public-safety tax, Adams said, but she doubted there would be much support for it.

“A tax increase would be the absolute last resort,” Republican Councilor Marilyn Pfisterer said. “I keep praying that the economy will begin to rebound and next year won’t be as difficult as we fear that it might be.”

Pfisterer said she supports leaving cuts to the agencies.

“They know if they can reduce staff and still provide the services they’re required to provide,” she said.

Each year for the past five years, most mayor-controlled agencies have been required to trim 5 percent from their budgets. The exception was the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, which is budgeted for $187 million this year.

IMPD’s presentation included furloughing civilian staff; reducing officer overtime; ending finger-printing and gun-permit services; offering sworn officers seven furlough days a year; and not allowing reserve officers to take home patrol cars.

There are hidden consequences in some of those cuts, Vaughn said. Take-home cars are a perk for reserve officers, who work 20 hours per month unpaid doing jobs like downtown patrol and managing event traffic. Taking away that perk might prompt reservists to quit, leaving the city to fill the gap with regular police, he said.

Vaughn hopes to have a spending-reduction ordinance introduced to the council in May.

The review isn’t quite finished, Vaughn said. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office and a few other agencies that didn’t approach the 5-percent mark will be asked to take a second look at their budgets.
 

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