Carmel could tap emergency fund for road repairs

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard wants to take $1.5 million from the city’s Rainy Day Fund to fix streets damaged by the unusually harsh winter.

About $700,000 of that would erase a projected shortfall in Carmel’s annual paving budget—a possibility City Council members raised Monday night—and Brainard asked for the rest to pay for additional repairs resulting from the extreme weather.

“We had no idea how cold and hard the winter would be” during the budgeting process last summer, he said.

If City Council OKs the full amount, the city’s savings account balance would drop to about $7.4 million—less than the recommended 10-percent operating reserve. With debt payments, Carmel’s 2014 general fund budget totals about $77 million.

Brainard said the Rainy Day Fund would be replenished when the state catches up on county option income tax payments, which financial advisor Curt Coonrod told the council could produce an additional $2 million a year in revenue beginning in 2016.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Luci Snyder agreed that the “truly wretched winter” may justify use of the emergency fund, but said the city’s $1.9 million paving budget wasn’t enough to begin with considering the road inventory added through annexation.

Even so, she doesn’t like the idea of dipping below the 10-percent threshold.

“We had a $700,000 hole, so obviously we’re not flush with funds pouring out of every orifice,” she said.

Her committee will take up the budget-reconciliation proposal next week, and the full council will vote on the measure after a May 19 public hearing.

Also Monday, City Council unanimously approved $632,335 in grants to 14 local arts organizations—about $50,000 less than the mayor originally proposed.

Council members delayed action on the 10-year-old grant program last month, saying they needed to clear up questions about the city budget first. Carmel sets aside 1 percent of its general fund for the grants each year, but the final number for 2014 was in dispute.

Brainard ultimately revised his recommendations to accommodate the council’s desired $633,000 maximum, reducing grants by 7.2 percent across the board.  

Snyder praised the move as “unassailably fair,” but Councilor Ron Carter said three organizations will bear the brunt of the pain: Carmel Symphony Orchestra, Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre and  Actors Theatre of Indiana together saw their six-figure grants cut by about $37,000.

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