City-County Council, Ballard still split on budget

The Indianapolis City-County Council approved one piece of Mayor Greg Ballard's budget proposal Monday night, but they're no closer to agreement on the whole $1 billion spending plan.

The majority-Democrat council and Republican mayor both say they want to hire more police officers, but they can't agree on how to pay for them. The split persists, even as the city prepares for the funeral of police officer Rod Bradway, who was killed responding to a domestic disturbance on Sept. 20. Bradway's funeral is Thursday at Banker's Life Fieldhouse.

“I'm a little physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted,” Rick Snyder, first vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said in public testimony on the budget. “I spent the entire weekend, while all of you were making phone calls back and forth, trying to work out a political solution, planning a funeral,” he told the council.

“It can't be a band-aid for 2014,” Snyder added. “It's got to be a long-term, five-year minimum plan. Set aside everything. Dig down deep. This isn't a joke and it isn't a game. Lives are at stake. Do the right thing. Work together.”

The council voted 15-12 to expand the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's special taxing district from the old city limits to the Marion County lines, adding $1.3 million in revenue for the police department.

But the council immediately shot down a Republican attempt to revive the mayor's proposal on eliminating the homestead tax credit, which when combined with a larger IMPD taxing district would have provided $11.5 million for police.

The council has rejected homestead-credit elimination four times since Ballard first proposed it a year ago as part of the 2013 budget. In a 15-12 vote Monday night, the council refused to add the matter to its agenda.

Ballard's level-funded budget hinged on the tax measures, so without the council's support, he's facing an $8 million revenue gap. Democratic leaders have proposed tapping the city's parking-meter fund, which is normally spent on public works, and a projected fund balance of the city's Information Services Agency, which was marked for long-term capital projects.

Council Vice President John Barth said he hoped Ballard would accept the council's actions Monday as a compromise and keep on the table his previous offer to take $7 million from the city's $80 million fiscal stability fund to hire even more officers. Mayoral Chief of Staff Ryan Vaughn couldn't be reached for comment Monday, but reaction from other Republicans was not positive.

Marion County Republican Chairman Kyle Walker kept up a barrage of tweets during the council meeting. “Council Dems continue to show they aren't serious about real, long-term public safety solutions,” he tweeted.

The council is scheduled to vote on an amended budget Oct. 14.

Expansion of the IMPD taxing district means the city's $35 million levy will be spread over a larger area, lowering taxes on a $100,000 home in the old city limits from $36.50 a year to $11.40.

Property owners in the rest of the county, not including Lawrence, Beech Grove, Southport and Speedway, would see taxes increase by 11.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, but only if their bills aren't already capped at 1 percent, as mandated by the state constitution.

IMPD's patrol area was expanded through a 2007 merger with the Marion County Sheriff, but the tax district was not. At the time, the city was facing a huge police-pension shortfall, and officials didn't want to transfer that liability to taxpayers who previously only were served by the sheriff. The state has since taken over those pension obligations.

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