Public Safety Committee budget meeting sparks battle between attendees

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- There was an unexpected blow-up at Wednesday night’s Public Safety Committee budget meeting.

Councillor Aaron Freeman says he’s disgusted by the way neighbors from his district were treated tonight.

Committee chairman Leroy Robinson told Franklin Township residents they weren’t allowed to comment on or ask questions about possible fire station closings in their neighborhood.

About a dozen were acknowledged by Freeman as he attempted to address the issue for them.

Robinson stopped him, so a fed-up Freeman got up and walked out with his constituents.

“I’ve never in my six years being on this council, ever had a chairman, or anyone for that matter, say you can ask certain questions, but not others,” said Freeman after leaving. “Let alone, shut down an entire group of people and not even let the fire chief ask.”

Committee chair Leroy Robinson says he was only following the rules.

“Today’s discussion was clearly, clearly about the 2017 budget,” said Robinson. “The issue of the fire station, closing those fire stations, was not in the budget presentation.”

The consolidation of fire stations 52 and 54 and then building a new one would be financed, if the council agrees, with a bond. Right now, IFD plans to ask for that bond next year.

Franklin Township resident Cathy Burton said she and others feel this plan is already a done deal in some minds, so they felt it was important to make it known that not everyone is on board.

“This may not have to do with the dollars that are up on the screen tonight, but it absolutely has to do with what’s going on in 2017,” said Burton. “To be told that we can’t even speak to the councilors, respectfully, using their two-minute deadline? We were angry.”

For his part, IFD Chief Ernest Malone says he anticipated questions about the stations and would’ve been willing  to answer them. At the same time, with a budget request of $196.6 million for 2017, Malone hopes the bigger picture of why he was here tonight doesn’t get lost.

“Stations, equipment, clothing, that’s the constant battle,” said Malone. “And we need to balance that with the need to provide an ever-expanding list of services. The need doesn’t stop and we want to meet that need.”

IMPD also presented its budget tonight. Chief Troy Riggs asked for $232.4 million, an increase of $3 million for 2017, with big increases in patrol officer increases.

Both IMPD and IFD have Mayor Joe Hogsett in their corners. He already expressed support  for a bump in public safety funding in August when he presented his budget to city council.