Police, fire layoffs ahead in Terre Haute?

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Terre Haute police and fire departments may face layoffs, potentially significant ones, if the city council does not pass some form of revenue increase and allow use of PILOT fees to help cover the general fund.

That’s the message from Steve Lockard, president of the Terre Haute police union — Local 133 of the International Union of Police Associations.

A few weeks ago, he drafted a letter to members outlining the city’s financial dilemma, need for new revenue and consequences of no general fund PILOT revenue. The Tribune-Star obtained a copy of the letter.

Lockard wrote, “If the city does not generate a new or increased revenue stream that brings in around $2 million [annually], the state will not permit the city to use PILOT fees to cover the general fund, leaving us $7 million in the red for 2017. If the city does in fact generate sufficient new revenue, and the city council does not permit the use of PILOT fees in the $4 million range, there will be potential layoffs.

“The numbers we received from the mayor are eight firemen and seven police officers for every $1 million short. So, if the city council decides to not permit PILOT fees to be used at all, that’s upward of 40 firefighters and 35 police officer positions that will be lost. These are the exact numbers we were given.”

He urged police to attend city council meetings in October and November.

The city’s 2017 general fund budget proposal includes $5 million from PILOT fees. Without a new revenue stream, either stormwater fee or sewage rate increase, the city will be unable to use any PILOT fees, leaving a deficit of about $7 million, he wrote.

“Also, without the PILOT fees, the city will be unable to bond, not only future phases of the wastewater control plan, but any future projects, such as our new police headquarters” and road projects, Lockard wrote.

Lockard wrote, “This letter is not intended to cause fear, but to express the seriousness of the situation, and the necessity of our members being involved, not just when our backs are against the wall, but continually.”

The 21/2 page letter explained in detail the city’s financial dilemma, with information about possible layoffs included at the end.

The city is working to come up with a more “digestable alternative plan” for revenue, which would be a sewer rate increase “in the neighborhood of 15 percent,” with a new proposed stormwater fee that would include certain exemptions, Lockard wrote.

The 2016 budget also calls for $5 million in PILOT, which the Indiana Finance Authority will not allow the city to use until a revenue increase is passed.

In September, the council unanimously rejected a new stormwater fee. Last Thursday, it tabled action on a 33 percent sewer rate increase.

Meanwhile, Mayor Duke Bennett is working on other options, including a “hybrid” that includes a lower sewer rate increase and a new stormwater fee proposal, with exemptions.

In a telephone interview, Lockard said Monday he believes the numbers speak for themselves.

“Everyone knows the city needs to generate revenue to make up the difference for tax caps and drastically under-assessed property values in some areas of the county,” he said. Less property tax revenue has hurt the general fund, of which the largest part is police and fire.

The police department has “pretty well cut to the bone as far as training and operations,” Lockard said. “Any more cuts and it is bound to affect manpower.”

Terre Haute Fire Chief Jeff Fisher said he had not seen Lockard’s letter.

“I’m being optimistic there are not going to be any layoffs and everything will pass like we hope,” the fire chief said. “I’m not looking down that path yet.”

Council President Todd Nation said he hadn’t seen the letter.

“I do understand what the city council does with PILOT will affect next year’s budget,” Nation said.

Layoffs “would be up to the mayor. The city council has shown a great interest in the amount of PILOT that’s in this year’s budget and whether or not the IFA will allow it to be released,” Nation said. For 2017, the council is discussing appropriate levels of PILOT and administrative fees, he said.

Council member Earl Elliott has proposed a two-stage sewer rate increase, with 6 percent taking effect this year and 12 percent at a later time.

Elliott suggested it would provide enough revenue to adequately fund the next phase of the long-term control plan, debt coverage, PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes to the general fund) and an administrative fee from sewer user fees to the general fund. PILOT and administrative costs would be reduced under his proposal.

Elliott said Monday he may have to revise his proposal, based on information last week that a sewer rate hike could cause volume of water use to go down, which would reduce the amount of sewer fee revenue.

The council, mayor and controller will meet at 5 p.m. tonight in the city hall courtroom for further budget discussions. The 2017 budget will not be finalized until later this month.

http://www.tribstar.com/news/local_news/police-fire-layoffs-ahead-in-terre-haute/article_1f9c141a-7b71-5802-ab97-60c44f3ff911.html