Ballard proposes budget to CCC - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Ballard proposes budget to CCC

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Following is a press release issued Monday evening by Mayor Ballard's office:

Mayor Greg Ballard today unveiled his 2014 budget proposal to the City-County Council. The plan contains roughly flat spending from the 2013 budget and reduces the City's estimated $55 million budget gap to $25 million by the end of 2014. It contains no income tax increase nor does it use one-time monies from TIF districts or the fiscal stability fund for on-going operations.

"Due to a lagging economy, we will continue to hold the line on spending and avoid an increase in income taxes," said Mayor Ballard. "This budget reflects our community priorities. It maintains our competitive business environment and promotes our continued growth."

The Mayor's 2014 Budget proposal contains $592 million in general fund spending, down from $594 million in 2013. It holds most budgets relatively flat with increases for the Marion County Clerk for administering the 2014 elections and Public Defender's Office to match a state grant. Crime Prevention and Arts Grants remain at 2013 levels. The overall budget which includes self-funded, dedicated-tax-supported, and outside grant funded agencies remains flat at roughly $1 billion.

This budget prioritizes spending on police, fire, public safety and criminal justice with greater than 90% of general fund revenue dedicated to those agencies. The IMPD budget is fully-funded. IFD is projected to save $1 million through operational efficiencies. The Marion County Sheriff's Office is reduced by $5 million to reflect reduced county revenue and anticipated savings in arrestee medical care.

"Earlier this year, Public Safety Director Troy Riggs and I announced a plan to return 156 officers to patrol duty and hire two new recruit classes of at least 50 officers in each of the next two years," said Mayor Ballard. "This budget supports those efforts and, most importantly, provides the funding to pay and equip these officers in the future."

In order to fund IMPD operations, Mayor Ballard asks the Council to reconsider elimination of the Homestead Property Tax Credit. Elimination of this credit will not change a homeowner's constitutional protection against paying more than 1% in property taxes on their home. The change will provide over $11 million in on-going funding to IMPD. The Mayor also proposes the Council expand the IMPD special property tax district. This district was not expanded at the time of the police-sheriff merger. This move would generate over $1 million in on-going revenue to IMPD per year and again not impact the tax of a homeowner whose taxes are capped at 1%.

The 2014 Budget proposal closes the city's estimated $55 million structural gap with:

· $14.5 million in new revenue from expanding IMPD property tax district and elimination of Homestead Tax Credit

· $5.9 million in budget reductions

· $8 million in savings from anticipated healthcare cost increases that never materialized due to delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and traditional premium increases

· $3 million by having agencies absorb the cost of contracted raises through savings in existing budget

· $1.4 million through implementation of fuel surcharge for IMPD and IFD take-home vehicles

· Use of $25 million in existing fund balances.

The City-County Council will now begin approximately two months of hearings on the budget. State law requires that it be passed prior to November 1, 2013.

2014 Budget Book as introduced to the City County-Council

INDIANAPOLIS - The proposed city budget could have a direct impact on many homeowners in Marion County if Mayor Greg Ballard's plan goes through. The homestead property tax credit would be eliminated. That would generate funds but essentially increase taxes.

This is not going to be easy. Like so many households, the City of Indianapolis has more money going out than coming in - $55-million more - so the question facing city leaders is where to find that?  

Eliminating the homestead tax credit would end up saving the city money, but costing those homeowners more per year due to losing the credit they now receive.

Ballard's plan also calls for a fuel surcharge on all city take-home vehicles that would generate $1.4 million per year.  Expanding the police taxing district into the townships would give the city $3-million more.

That homestead tax credit is the big one, though, and impacts people who own homes in Marion County's Washington Township, and use it as their primary dwelling place.  Ballard estimates that would generate more than $11-million.

Law enforcement is always a big question. Right now there is no money to pay police officers their a three-percent raise. But the public safety director says he's trying to find $3-million somewhere in his own budget to pay officers.

The mayor's budget does maintain the same level of funding for arts and crime prevention.

But ultimately, it will be the City-County Council that decides how the money is divvied up.  Since Mayor Ballard is a Republican, and there is a Democrat majority in the council, you can bet this budget process will not be an easy one.

Questions about taxing districts

Cathy Burton head of MCANA (Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations) said of expanding the taxing districts to county line, "We need more information about how that is going to impact other services we receive. Will we see more people pushed toward property tax caps to the point where school districts will be penalized when the circuit breakers kick in?"

Concerns are it not only shifts who pays but how much different taxing entities get. IMPD will be getting $1.3 million more in tax dollars, so who gets less?

Burton also has concerns about the elimination of the homestead tax credit (expected to net the city an extra $11.5 million while boosting the average property tax bill $22)

"If we don't have enough money and have to look at user fees, taxes, whatever you call them, I really hope we think long and hard about how we're doing that. While a little bit here and there may not mean much for many families and even though the economy is supposedly getting better, an extra $20-$40 a month will break the budget for some families. The city has to justify the amounts they're asking for and demonstrate how is that going to benefit citizens," said Burton.

On the budget, mayoral spokesman Marc Lotter argued, "It's a flat budget. It spends a little less than last year, there are no income tax increases, it fully funds IMPD and public safety agencies and sets the city up for future growth and prosperity."

As for no police or firefighter raises, he said, "We went into this year facing $55 million in structural deficits, even with cuts we're still $25 million short going into 2015. So there is no money for any agency to give employee raises. The mayor is encouraging each agency to find monies within their budgets if they can."

City-County Council President Maggie Lewis responded, "It's important to honor the contracts, IMPD and our firefighters risk their lives every day and their raises were contracted and we need to honor that...This is the budget season. We have to dig deep and find the dollars for them."

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