What’s the state of Carmel’s finances?
That’s the big question on which the two Republican mayoral candidates for mayor disagree. Mayor Jim Brainard believes the city’s financial state is strong. Carmel City Council President Rick Sharp believes if changes aren’t made, taxes will need to be increased to pay for the debt.
Brainard and Sharp faced off Wednesday night at a debate at the Carmel Clay Public Library, with the discussion boiling down to Sharp insisting the city’s debt is higher than Brainard leads on, and Brainard praising the city’s credit record, repeatedly mentioning the AA+ rating from Standard & Poor’s.
Sharp didn’t deny the city is thriving. However, he fretted about paying off the debt he claimed was $1 billion, accounting for interest and years of payments. He called the finances, as Brainard presented them, “somewhat questionable.”
Brainard said the debt is actually $550 million, arguing interest shouldn’t be included, since it can fluctuate depending on when the debt is paid off. He called Sharp’s calculations “fuzzy facts.”
Brainard stressed the city could pay its bills without raising taxes and showed a photo of a house that had $2,800 in taxes in 1998 and today only pays $1,700.
“I'm proud of that record,” Brainard said. “We can continue it.”
Sharp questioned whether that took into account the property tax caps that didn’t exist in 1998. He wouldn't rule out raising taxes, again mentioning the debt.
He also wouldn’t specify exactly where he’d make cuts in the budget, but said, “There is fat to cut.”
“You can always tighten the belt if that’s what you need to do,” Sharp said.
Brainard recently announced several big infrastructure improvements, including a roundabout at 96th and Keystone, but said Wednesday he didn't know how the city would pay for it.
“In my mind, these are nothing more than election year promises,” Sharp said of the announced projects.
The two candidates also have different views on future economic development in Carmel. Sharp would like to focus on one sector: life and health sciences. Brainard doesn’t think it’s good to put all the eggs in one basket and wants a diverse business community.
In response to the recent backlash against the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, both said they would support local legislation to provide protection to lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual individuals.
“We need to fix this problem, and we need to fix it now,” Brainard said about RFRA.
The candidates will meet again in a debate at 7 p.m. April 21 at Ritz Charles, 12156 N. Meridian St. Early voting begins Tuesday.