Carmel city council approves 2020 budget after slashing funds for new festival

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The Carmel City Council voted 6-1 Oct. 21 to approve the 2020 budget, but not before removing the majority of funds requested to launch an arts and music festival.

The general fund budget totals more than $112 million and includes adding 15 firefighters, three police officers and providing all services for the recently-annexed Home Place for a full year for the first time. It also includes nearly $2 million to cover an extra pay period that will occur in 2020 because of the leap year.

The proposed budget included $425,000 to launch an arts and music festival planned to debut the weekend before Memorial Day in 2021. Carmel Director of Community Relations and Economic Development Nancy Heck, who requested the funds in her department’s budget, previously said the city’s support would be similar to the $440,000 it contributed in 2017 to launch the Carmel Christkindlmarkt.

The council approved an amendment from councilor Sue Finkam that reduces 2020 funding for the festival to $50,000 to allow planning to continue but require additional appropriation requests to come before the council. She also requested that Heck give monthly updates to the council on preparations for the festival.

“The city council’s approval of reduced funds in the 2020 budget will allow us to continue to research similar festivals and provide more detail and estimated price points,” Heck stated in email. “It is our intent to show how this festival can have an excellent return on investment and fulfill our goal of having unique events that create a quality of life here unlike any other. ”

Councilor Tony Green voted against the budget, citing the fact that budgets for the Community Relations and Economic Development department and the Carmel Redevelopment Commission have increased at least three times more than increases for law enforcement during his three years on council.

The council did not remove $2.4 million it expected to pay to Hamilton County in 2020 for use of the county’s 911 dispatch center. Carmel recently joined several other Hamilton County cities in approving a 10 percent increase in the local income tax to fund the dispatch center, meaning its fee can be used for other purposes. The tax goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, 36-year Carmel resident Hans Collins asked the council to remove the funds originally designated for the dispatch center from the 2020 budget.

“How fair is it to the Carmel taxpayer, who now will suffer a 10 percent increase in local income taxes while still paying for a city expenditure that has ceased to exist?” he asked. “The least you can do to be somewhat fair to Carmel taxpayers is to eliminate the no-longer-needed money from the city budget.”

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard previously said he expects the city to use the savings to fund other public safety initiatives, which could include purchasing equipment and training for the city’s growing police and fire departments.

The 2020 budget is more than 10 percent bigger than the 2019 one, but the city expects it to result in a slight tax decrease in the current rate of 78.86 cents per $100 of assessed home value.

The council also voted to transfer $2.87 million to the city’s rainy day fund, as it is required to be at a level that equals 10 percent or more of the 2020 budget by Jan. 1.

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