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County Council to city: Lots more to cut before tax increase is justified

Wayne statue, 'common wage' draw members' criticism

Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 12:53 pm

Mayor Tom Henry may be fortunate he won't need County Council's support for most of the proposals made to balance the city's budget.

In its first public response to a task force's proposed reforms, members of the county's fiscal body made it clear Thursday they believe the city should do a lot more cutting before it increases taxes.

“It's just bad government if you haven't done everything (to reduce spending), said Darren Vogt, president of the seven-member, all-Republican council. “In 2011 and 2012 we made cuts of 7 percent and 2 percent. The city chose to go below its levy (the maximum amount of property taxes it could collect) but spent the same, with the same information we had (about expected revenues).

“Somebody fell asleep at the switch.”

Council's pointed to two issues as proof the city has not done everything possible to control spending: the Democrat Henry's desire to move the statue of Gen. Anthony Wayne from Freimann Square to Courthouse Green and the city's policy of adopting union-level minimum salaries under the state's “common wage” law.

Councilman Larry Brown, who is also a member of the Courthouse Preservation Trust that helped fund Courthouse Green and opposes the statue's relocation, said Henry's cost estimate of $100,000 may be far less than needed. In a January letter to trust members, for example, Glenroy Construction Co. of Indianapolis noted that the statue is cracked and could cost up to $600,000 to repair and move safely.

Vogt, meanwhile, suggested the city could save millions of dollars annually by adopting non-union wages for construction projects costing $350,000 – a decision the Associated Builders and Contractors claims could save between 15 and 30 percent.

“It's unfortunate they're looking at raising revenues right off the bat,” said Vogt, who called City Council's ability to increase income taxes even for county residents living outside the city limits “taxation without representation. That's a huge problem.”

Councilman Roy Buskirk suggested any tax increase could also make it more difficult to attract jobs to Allen County.

Vogt said city officials have also suggested County Council increase the wheel tax-surtax, which is about $20 per year for a car and provides funds for roads and bridges. County Council narrowly increased the tax in 2009, saying more money was needed to keep bridges safe.

Because of the county's spending restraint, Brown said, it still has a rainy day fund of about $12 million. To pay ongoing expenses, Council on Thursday authorized borrowing up to $8 million from the fund, to be repaid as taxes are collected.

In other business, Council earmarked $1.5 million for implementation of a possible merit-pay system for county employers and approved the Sheriff's Department's request to hire a financial officer to seek savings and new revenues, at an annual salary of between $48,859 and $63,623.