By Adam Aasen
The Carmel City Council began its process of listening to funding requests from each city department to help determine the city’s budget for the next fiscal year.
Each representative had complete figures to explain to council members. That is, with one exception: the Carmel Redevelopment Commission.
Under the new state law, the City Council now has fiscal oversight over the CRC. Previously, the commission did not need to share its budget with council.
CRC Executive Director Corrie Meyer said the budget simply isn’t ready yet because they just finalized their mid-year budget revisions for 2014 and received a lengthy report on tax increment finance projections from accountants.
“The redevelopment commission does fall under council oversight and there’s another workshop left and we would like to see a budget,” Council President Eric Seidensticker told Meyer.
Meyer responded that they are working to fulfill the legal requirements and would include the council in the process. It is possible won’t be ready by next week’s final workshop session. She highlighted what she sees as proof of fiscal transparency for the CRC, such as monthly budget updates, public meetings on the TIF report and an open mid-year budget meeting.
Clerk-Treasurer Diana Cordray questioned why the CRC didn’t present a budget.
“I guess I don’t understand why the budget process is different for your department,” Cordray said. “The state was very, very clear that they are a department.”
Mayor Jim Brainard disagreed with that interpretation, saying he views the CRC as a commission, which is a legal entity of the city similar to any policy-making board or council. He said a department has full-time staff and reports to the city’s executive.
Furthermore, Brainard said he believes the new law mandates “oversight” by the council, but he feels that is very different from “approval.” He worries about the City Council nit-picking small projects such as a few thousand dollars to replace park benches.
The majority of the CRC’s budget is dedicated to debt service, which the Council would not be able to cut. For 2015, Meyer projected the debt obligations at $19.1 million. The Council would still be needed to approve any bonds for any future debt.
It’s likely that the Council and the Mayor’s Office will consult with attorneys to ensure their interpretation of the new law is correct.
But Seidensticker is convinced that this law was passed to prevent redevelopment commissions from spending taxpayer money without any approval.
“Oversight is oversight,” he said.
Meyer emphasized that she views the council as partners in the process.
“We have every intention of working with council,” she said.