Lawrence City Council amends budget to fund public safety, makes cuts elsewhere; ‘We set the record straight’

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LAWRENCE, Ind. — Officials with the city of Lawrence looked to clear the air Monday night after their approved 2022 budget left department heads frustrated two weeks prior.

The then approved budget cut millions of dollars which funded tasers, body cameras and salaries for Lawrence public safety officials. 

The City Common Council says they didn’t know what they were cutting before approving the budget, as the items they cut they say, were incorrectly labelled.

The council met again Monday night to make amendments to the budget in the form of vouchers and proposals, but still, not everyone is happy.

“I’ve been on this council for six and a half years and this is the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like this,” Lawrence Common Council President Lisa Chavis said. “This budget process has been excruciating from the point of; it’s frustrating when you’ll really just want to get the answers to the questions and its silence… there’s an unwillingness to participate.”

Lawrence Police Officers will have body cameras & tasers after all after a budgeting snafu; the city council says their intent was never to defund them in the first place.

“The 3.6 million dollars that we were asking to be cut from the budget because there wasn’t revenues there to support it, was for capital improvement projects and not about defunding public safety,” Chavis said. “Tonight we had the opportunity to set the record straight and I’m really happy about that.”

Those items and salaries were all approved at Monday night’s meeting after they were cut on October 12th. The funding for the moves, council says, will come from the American Rescue Plan.

“We have 11.1 million from the American Rescue Plan funds,” Chavis said. “That’s what those funds are to be used for. That is the intent of them.”

But Mayor Steve Collier doesn’t agree. He plans to veto the newly amended and approved budget as soon as possible. 

“I have no confidence that this whole idea behind the ARP funding can even be done. I’ll veto this budget. I can’t conceivably think that this is a good thing for the city of Lawrence,” Collier said. “The council has the power to override the mayor… and if they do they’ll have to own it.  I think what’s most frustrating of all… is that we have the money. We have the money. We clearly have the money… nothings changed.”

The budget confusion, both groups say, stemmed from a breakdown in communication between the mayors office and city council; which lead to the cuts which were made to the initial 2022 budget. 

“Lisa Chavis adjourned the talks. I had all my guys at budget meetings to answer whatever questions they wanted answered and never got a chance to,” Collier said. “These, you know, claims that we haven’t answered or we haven’t been available… they’re just not true.”

Chavis would say otherwise…

“Truly, the controller, who was hired by the mayor, shut down budget processes during our previous meetings,” Chavis said. “If there are needs of our city which remain, the department heads can come to us and ask for them. Since they wouldn’t clearly articulate what those were, and they essentially shut down the budget process.”

The city council also approved a 5% bonus for all public safety officials Monday night; while cutting millions instead, Collier says, from storm water resources and capital improvement projects to make up the difference.

“Inexplicably they cut all the storm water monies… it would be incredible for anyone to believe that we’ve done this for five years successfully and all the sudden, we have no idea what we’re doing on our end of it… we’ll I assure you, we know what we’re doing,” Collier said. “The councils actions tonight are… they could be devastating.”

Council President Chavis says the budget is balanced and further needs can still be met.

“I think the record was set straight in terms of the councils desire to have a clear and transparent budget,” Chavis said. “Anything else they need; they can come to us via the appropriation process and this council will listen and ask good questions and make the best decision for our city and that keeps us financially sound as we strive to be.”

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