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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Council Monday: mayor’s budget crafting; bone-headed CIB votes

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“Just Tellin’It” begins its 16th year on the pages of your Indianapolis Recorder with some positive words for Mayor Greg Ballard and harsh words for three City-County Councilors who supposedly represent our African-American community.

Despite being treated like second-class citizens throughout the entire Capital Improvement Board (CIB) debacle. Despite every idea and proposal offered by Democrats and our African-American community to solve the CIB funding crisis being rejected out of hand. Despite the failure of the Ballard Administration, the leadership of the CIB and the city’s downtown business and commercial interests to include our Black community in crafting a solution to the CIB mess.

Despite all that disrespect, three City-County Councilors representing America’s 16th largest African-American community, voted against the community’s interests and helped OK that heinous CIB hotel tax increase and $8 million state mandated loan.

Indianapolis’ two African-American Republican Councilors, Kent Smith and Barbara Malone reneged on their own “no tax increase” promises of two years ago, voting with the 15-vote majority.

More galling is the lone Democratic vote from Councilwoman Jackie Nytes, who represents one of Indianapolis’ Black-majority Council districts. Nytes’ vote puts her in severe jeopardy of a primary challenge two years from now in her overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Smith and Malone’s vote means they could face GOP opposition in two years and a loss of Black support in the 2011 general council elections.

When our neighborhoods are crumbling, when basic city/county services are being cut back, Nytes, Smith and Malone’s support of the CIB deal doesn’t ring true.

Especially after this past weekend, when the Indianapolis Business Journal revealed the CIB had whittled down their deficit from an alleged $47 million down to the $5-$7 million range. This action places the CIB in the same credibility league as Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck.

Now, to my somewhat positive words about the mayor.

All across the country, cities and towns of varying populations and political control have been laying off employees and slashing government services in the face of the Great Recession. Here in Indiana, from Gary to Muncie to Evansville, mayors and councils have been grappling with reduced tax revenues and cutting services and people; even police officers and firefighters.

So what happened here in Indianapolis?

This hasn’t been a good year for Mayor Ballard. But, I’ve got to give him credit for presenting what appears, on the surface, to be a budget unlike any proposed by any major American city.

For months, going back to the mayor’s only interview with Black media last December, Mayor Ballard was saying his 2010 budget would be extremely lean and could include severe cuts in services and perhaps people.

As the Great Recession’s severity grew in Indianapolis/Marion County with unemployment rising from 5.6 percent last June to 9.3 percent today, the expectation of myself and others was that Mayor Ballard’s 2010 budget would be draconian.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem to be.

The Ballard Administration proposes spending $1 billion, $222.6 million next year and while taking in $1 billion, $234.6 million in revenue. That leaves on paper a $12 million surplus.

An impressive display of financial wizardry from Ballard and his City Controller David Reynolds.

But beneath the warm words from the mayor that his budget looks out for the taxpayer, there’s some disturbing trends.

Controller Reynolds and the mayor had assumed they would lose $30 to $40 million in tax revenues for 2010 and were prepared to cut that much from city/county spending. However, Reynolds planned for the reduced revenue by making the city/county start reducing their budgets in late 2008 when the economy started tanking.

Then in this year’s budget, Reynolds and the Mayor made agencies reduce their spending by five percent and going into the planning for the 2010 budget, those same agencies were asked to trim their spending another five percent.

But while government agencies were asked to trim spending a total of 10 percent from 2008 levels, the city/county added expenses. In 2010, raises for police and firefighters take affect as does the final year of pay increases for other unionized employees.

The 2010 budget includes at least $60 million in federal stimulus dollars, including those 50 new police officers under the Federal COPS program.

Controller Reynolds assured me Indianapolis would fully fund those new cops, including their equipment needs, despite last week’s wishy-washy warnings from Acting Public Safety Director Mark Renner that the city couldn’t.

Compared with former Mayor Bart Peterson’s final budget (2007), the Ballard 2010 budget spends $73.1 million more on public safety; a 20.4 percent increase since 2007. Criminal justice services, including the sheriff, prosecutor and courts together spend $13.2 million more; a 6.7 percent increase.

Other public services, which include Parks, Public Works and Metropolitan Development, see their overall spending drop from 2007 by $59.8 million; or 15.5 percent. Some of that cut is not picking up the cost of child welfare services and the Guardian Home, but it adds stimulus money from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Other budget problems.

During a briefing, Reynolds said that if other township fire departments’ merge with Indianapolis in 2010, he might not fund a firefighter recruit class.

I challenged Reynolds and Mayoral Press Secretary Jessica Higdon if that meant in 2010 Indianapolis wouldn’t hire any minority or women firefighters. Higdon started backtracking; indicating the sensitivity of that subject needs to be addressed during the budget hearing process.

Democrats will be going over Ballard and Reynolds’ budget with a fine tooth comb. Obviously, with the blown credibility of the CIB, many are distrustful of government budget numbers. Even ones as rosy as Ballard’s new budget.

The Mayor says he wants Indianapolis to be a “taxpayer affordable city” where “ordinary citizens can afford to live well.”

Reynolds has crafted for Ballard a budget that supposedly saves money through more privatization, outsourcing and efficiencies; “blocking and tackling” Reynolds calls it.

The question Indianapolis must ask is what good is living in a “taxpayer affordable city” where downtown keeps getting all the new facilities and services and attention, while neighborhoods, especially our neighborhoods, continue to deteriorate?

That’s what needs to be examined as citizens tear through Ballard’s Budget.

See ‘ya next week!

Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915.

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