Mayor’s administration: 2017 budget proposal to put Indianapolis on “path of recovery”

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Staffers for Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett told reporters at an off-camera media briefing Monday afternoon the mayor’s 2017 budget proposal would put the city of Indianapolis on a “path of recovery,” including “cost reduction” and “efficiencies.”

Part of that path includes the mayor’s office telling city departments and department heads that they’ll get no funding increases, except in areas mandated by law. Other departments could see their budgets reduced.

Monday night, Hogsett formally presented his first budget as the city's chief executive to the City-County Council.

"This budget isn't just about reducing spending. It's also about ensuring that we are still able to do more with less on behalf of the taxpayers," said Hogsett.

Since his inauguration, Hogsett has maintained that the city’s current budgetary structure isn’t sustainable long-term. Aides explained Monday the city of Indianapolis has routinely operated with an average $50 million deficit since 2008, largely because of state-mandated property tax caps.

Hogsett’s administration said without a budget fix, the fund balances of some city departments, like police, fire, public works, or parks, could come dangerously close to hitting zero by 2017/2018.

Routine infusions of cash have occurred over the years that propped up the budget, Hogsett said, like when the city privatized parking meters or sold the city water company.

"Previous administrations sought creative ways to ensure that Indianapolis could afford and continue to grow even when we spent more than we were taking in," Hogsett told the council.

Hogsett’s budget proposal accounts for roughly $1.09 billion in expenses and roughly $1.07 billion in revenues, leaving nearly a $24 million budget deficit. His advisors said Monday afternoon they are working on a 3-year strategy to get the city’s spending in pace with revenues.

Tax revenue in 2017 will increase nearly $13.7 million, as a result of city-county growth and state law changes that mandate less taxes being immediately withheld.

Overall expenses from 2016 to 2017 will be reduced more than $12 million under Hogsett’s proposal, which includes no increases in departmental spending, efficiencies as attributed to “innovative ideas,” paying off of bonds, and using capital levies to fund public service needs.

Key points of Hogsett’s capital plan include CAD system funding for IMPD, the construction of two new IFD fire stations, purchasing of police cruisers and fire trucks, $5 million in parks funding, waste trucks, and voting equipment.

Two IMPD recruit classes would be funded for 2017, adding 86 officers.

A 4-year infrastructure plan would fund road work with $50 million in investment each year for four years, though Hogsett aides acknowledge some studies have shown the city has more than $2 billion in road and sidewalk improvement needs.

Hogsett’s administration maintains they will close the budget deficit in the coming years by “smart-size” hiring within the city, a reduction in the city’s overall workforce. Aides said roughly 20% of the city’s workforce turns over in a calendar year, equaling approximately 1,400 people.

"We're going to be taking a hard look at the executive branch, examining all city departments, services, to see where efficiencies can be found, and where bureaucracy can be cut," Hogsett said Monday evening.

Analysis through 2017 implemented in 2018 would provide recommendations for city vacancies that could be unfilled or jobs that could be eliminated. New hires could also see less of their benefits paid by the city. Still, the mayor’s office maintained at this point, the city is not looking at layoffs.

Spending on both public safety initiatives and criminal justice services will increase under Hogsett’s proposal, though the city faces key contract negotiations this year with police, fire, and AFSCME unions, all who’ve been briefed on the budget tightening, according to Hogsett’s staff.

Hogsett’s budget includes one-year’s worth of spending to acquire more beds for the Marion County Jail, though aides acknowledge that is a short-term solution.

Talks continue by the Hogsett administration and key stakeholders for a replacement for the Marion County Jail and possible justice center, though a firm date for plans to be finalized isn’t known.

His administration revealed Monday the mayor would like ideas to be firmed up by the end of 2016 and hoped any new facility could be begun and completed in the mayor’s first term in office.

"It gets harder and harder every year, and this will be our hardest to date," said Council Minority Leader Mike McQuillen.

Council leadership acknowledged the next few weeks will yield very serious and significant budget conversations.

"I'm not going to say that the sky is falling, but things are bad and again, it's going to require us to comb through the budget line by line and see where we're at," said Council President Maggie Lewis.

The city must provide budget plans to the state of Indiana by early November.