Financial emergency sparks cuts in Connersville

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Police officers in Connersville will reduce the amount of gas they use and lose some training opportunities as part of an effort to close a budget shortfall that has forced city leaders to declare a financial emergency.

The Board of Works and Safety declared the emergency last week after revenue estimates showed the city wouldn't be able to meet its payroll and claims as of May 1, the News-Examiner reported.

Clerk-Treasurer Julie Greeson estimates the city's general fund will have less than $15,000 in the bank as of May 1, yet its monthly payroll and claims typically exceed $700,000.

"After May 1, we won't have any money to pay anybody," Mayor Leonard Urban said.

Urban said the city of 13,335 people located 55 miles east of Indianapolis has lost more than $3 million in revenue since he took office in 2008. He attributes part of that to the loss of about $100 million in assessed value with the closure of a Visteon plant and the statewide property tax caps that took effect in 2009.

"I knew this was coming, but I never dreamed it would come upon us this quick," Urban told city leaders. "We've been watching our budget, we've been not spending, we've been trying to be careful. … We've done everything we know to save money, but when you get these kinds of losses and you still have the same expenses, this is where we are."

The city hopes to make up $300,000 before its June tax draw by making sweeping cuts and limiting spending to fixing city vehicles that might break down. It also may borrow from another fund.

Those austerity steps will affect the police department, where officers will lose their clothing allowance and outside training opportunities for the foreseeable future. Overtime will be limited, and Chief David Counceller said he may have to reduce the number of officers working a shift during peak vacation times.

The department also will instruct officers not to leave their vehicles idling and to park and run radar at times while on patrol.

"We found that if we took away the clothing allowance for everybody, we save $100,000," Urban said. "If we take away all the overtime, just wipe it out, we can save $150,000, and we think if we cut the consumption of diesel fuel and gas, I'm hoping by a third, we can make it to where we need to be in June."

Counceller said the cuts shouldn't affect residents, but he acknowledged he's concerned about manpower when vacation time hits.

"It could come down to working three men on a shift when we usually run four to five," he said.

He said he plans to use the department's two part-time officers to offset overtime costs. And he and the assistant chief might take turns on patrol.

"I might even have a detective put on a uniform and go out and cover a shift," he said.

He asked for residents' understanding if the police response is slower than normal.

"If you do call, and we're not right there, just give a little time because we're short-handed," Counceller said.

Counceller said he expects the cuts to remain in effect through December.

"This year is going to be pretty rough," he said.

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