Dems, mayor reach budget deal that includes more police on streets

The Democrat-controlled City-County Council and Mayor Greg Ballard have come to terms on how to fund a projected $15 million budget shortfall for next year while putting more police officers on the streets.

Council President Maggie Lewis and mayoral Chief of Staff Ryan Vaughn announced the compromise Monday afternoon. The council voted 26-2 to approve the 2014 budget Monday evening. Republicans Bob Lutz and Christine Scales voted against the plan.

Under the agreement to cover the $15 million shortfall, the city would take a $6.9 million loan from an $80 million fiscal stability fund that helps the city maintain its AAA credit rating.

In addition, $5.7 million would come from the city’s portion of an escrow fund established following the city’s sale of its water and sewer systems to Citizens Energy Group in 2011. The remaining $2.4 million would come from the city's rainy-day fund.

For Democrats, the compromise avoids eliminating the homestead tax credit, which the mayor had proposed as a way of closing the funding gap. The entire city-county budget for 2014 is about $1 billion.

The three funds tapped to shore up the 2014 budget, however, are one-time budget sources, leaving more uncertainty for the following year.

“It truly reflects a compromise on both sides,” Lewis said of the agreement. “My colleagues recognize that this addresses 2014, and tomorrow we’re back at it to address 2015.”

Ballard said in a statement issued Monday afternoon that the deal helped avoid months of budget debates.

"This deal is not perfect as it delays long-term fiscal questions to 2015, but it will provide the necessary revenue to hire new police officers and continue making the necessary investments that make Indy a great place to live, work and raise a family," Ballard said.

If councilors approve the budget Monday night, it would fund a new class of 30 police recruits in April. Vaughn said plans still call for a class of 50 recruits late next year but “there was a desire to do something earlier.”

Those 80 recruits, in addition to 50 more expected in 2015, would give the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department a net gain of more than 80, when counting the officer positions that won’t be filled following retirements.

Related to the police staffing issue, Democratic Councilor John Barth will introduce a proposal at Monday’s meeting to create a bipartisan study commission to gauge the appropriate number of IMPD officers and to review and analyze long-term funding options. Barth said he wants to study the issue, regardless of how the city decided to fund public safety in 2014.

The 2014 budget also would fund raises for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, under the same contract terms that have been accepted by the Indianapolis Fire Department.

The new contract provides firefighters a 3-percent raise effective July 1, a $1,256 base-salary increase in January 2015 and another $1,400 increase in January 2016.

“There’s going to be debate on the budget,” Lewis predicted for Monday’s night's meeting. “But when it’s time for us to vote, I would imagine we’ll come together and realize this is the right thing to do.”

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