City vehicle fuel surcharge becomes political topic

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INDIANAPOLIS - An ordinance uncovered by 13 Investigates to help offset growing city fuel budgets is now a heated political debate.

The word on the street: No idling.

Mayor Ballard wants those car engines burning unnecessary fuel turned off at crime and fire scenes.

"They're looking for ways to actually reduce the fuel consumption and therefore the fuel costs, without penalizing the police officers," explained Marion County Republican Party Chairman Kyle Walker.

It's the mayor's answer now after 13 Investigates caught the city itself idling and failing to implement a $25 surcharge passed in 2008.

Public safety workers with take-home cars were supposed to pay the surcharge when gas prices exceeded $3 a gallon. The measure received bipartisan support, including support from Ballard.

Now the mayor and Marion County Republicans call it a tax on police officers.

Walker doesn't deny the mayor's flip-flop. "Right. And since that time police officers have helped with the overall budget shortfalls, or I should say budget savings that the mayor has proposed," Walker told 13 Investigates.

"The reality is they were caught asleep at the wheel," said Democratic mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy. According to Kennedy, there's no excuse why the city shouldn't collect as much as $600,000 a year from the surcharge and put money back into slashed crime prevention budgets.

"It's a ridiculous notion," countered Walker, reacting to Kennedy's proposal.

"This ordinance does not allow for anything other than the capturing of surcharge dollars and putting it back into the line item for fuel," he said, taking aim at Kennedy.

"That can offset other revenues that can be used for crime prevention or the city can, if it wants, clarify and amend the ordinance to be sure it goes to crime prevention," argued Kennedy Friday afternoon.

13 Investigates wanted to see how much the city is spending for fuel.

In 2009, the city spent more than $2.1 million for more than 750,000 gallons of fuel.

Last year, the city also hit the $2 million mark for January and February fuel spending. Consumption also slightly decreased.

In the first two months of this year, the city reports spending less for the same amount of fuel - roughly $1.7 million.

But what the city didn't disclose is the actual fuel price for the months in question.

Instead, it only provided an average cost per gallon per year, which is just pennies short of the $3 a gallon threshold.

A city spokeswoman told 13 Investigates the Ballard administration has been unable to assign a dollar amount to how much the anti-idling policy will save, and that the surcharge is a last resort to recoup high fuel costs.

Democratic mayoral candidate and former City-County Councilman Ron Gibson is also calling for the collection of the surcharge.