LAWRENCE, Ind. — The city of Lawrence’s amended 2022 budget was finalized in a public hearing in front of dozens inside the government center Tuesday evening.
The meeting, which was comprised almost solely by public comment, gave department heads, the mayor and citizens a chance to weight in on sweeping budget cuts city wide.
Lawrence police Chief David Hofmann said the reforms will devastate his department along with several others.
“Obviously we’re all striving for a balanced budget and I think right now there’s some confusion on what that is,” Hofmann said. “The police and fire are getting hit hard. I mean this is gonna be devastating.”
Chief Hofmann says the city council made budget cuts that will leave his officers without body cameras, mugshot software they purchased from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, fire alarms in their newly built police station, clean bathrooms and even Tasers.
“This is serious business. It’s budget season and I know that our council supports us, and I know that they want what’s best for us and they’re trying to be conservative but this approach is just devastating,” Hofmann said. “These things keep officers safe and reduce injuries. They cut that out of our budget for next year.”
Not only that, but Hofmann says they’re also trimming millions of dollars in salaries for officers and support staff, not only with the police but also the fire department and parks and recreation.
“I can’t imagine they even have a clue that my officers are gonna be laid off, that the doors to this building are going to be locked, and that we’re gonna have police officers mowing the grass,” Hofmann said. “I have to take this at face value. They voted on it last week. They said, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ They’re not bluffing. It’s probably going to boil down to lack of communication.”
The president of the Lawrence City Common Council Lisa Chavis says not so fast, however.
“It’s an overreaction that all that stuff is gone, ok? We have money in our reserve fund,” Chavis said. “They aren’t cut. They aren’t gone. Nobody’s not gonna be without body cameras. None of that. None of that is true, ok?”
Chavis says the council didn’t know exactly what they were cutting from the budget until it was too late because of inappropriately named items, often labeled, “other.”
“There were a lot of budget items that were categorized, called “other.” There was millions of dollars that needed to be put in the appropriate budget line. If it’s for equipment, then put it in equipment,” Chavis said. “It’s sad that the department heads weren’t given the opportunity to answer those questions. We just found out what was actually cut tonight, and that’s like almost two weeks too late.”
What caused the confusion? Department heads like Hofmann say they were never asked what items were before they were cut, and Chavis says they were never given an opportunity to ask by staffing changes within the controllers office.
But it’s not too late, per se.
With the budget finalized, the only path forward for police, fire and other departments to get the items and salaries they desire back, is to appropriate.
“The funds are there. We’re here. The appropriation process is a mechanism that can be used to fund budget items,” Chavis said. “We’ve got $11.1 million from the American Rescue Plan funds in our pocket, the only way money will be taken away from any department now is if they refuse to come to us for the funding. That is the only way it’ll be taken away.”
Chavis says the line items that were slashed from the budget can all be readdressed for budget appropriation in upcoming council meetings.