By Sadie Hunter
After passing a red (non-balanced) budget in 2015, the Noblesville Common Council, at its Oct. 27 meeting, unanimously passed the 2016 operating budget of $45,094,858, along with salary ordinances for elected and appointed officials and city employees.
But several city councilors say even though the budget is “in the black,” they will have to start looking into other sources of revenue.
Throughout the budget process, it has been repeated that the city has and will continue to lose $5 million each year as a result of state-implemented property tax caps.
“Obviously it’s a tough budget. It’s pretty lean, but it is a black budget by (approximately) $12,000,” Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear said.
One source of additional revenue that has been thrown around is the potential for a trash and recycling fee. Currently, Noblesville is the only city in the county that does not charge for trash and recycling pick up. Just one month ago at Mayor Ditslear’s State of the City address, he said if the fee or other forms of revenue for the city don’t become available, the city would be forced to cut some of the high-quality services residents have come to expect.
Councilor Greg O’Connor said at the Oct. 27 meeting some of those changes can already be seen in the 2016 budget.
“I think that one of the things that we’re starting to see now, contained in this budget, we had to reduce the amount of money we’re putting in for paving, about half a million dollars. There’s some other things we’d like to be doing in the city … projects that total about $2.3 million, that we’re not going to be able to do based on this budget. I think the reality is starting to set in,” O’Connor said. “From a fiscal conservative perspective, this budget is right there. From a long-term growth perspective … in the end, is that where we want to go? I guess that’s a question for us, the council, to look at that and start to make decisions about what we can and can’t do.”
Council President Rick Taylor agreed.
“I’m happy we have a black budget, but I don’t think we’re moving the city forward with this budget. I think there’s a lot of things that need to be in this budget that aren’t,” Taylor said. “The bottom line is I feel like we were elected to move the city forward, and citizens respect us and voted for us to do that. With this budget, I think we missed the boat. I think this council’s got work to do, and we need to find revenue. We’re going to continue to lose $5 million (each) year to property tax caps, and we have done nothing to offset that. As elected officials, I think we need to do a better job.
Other than property tax caps, several other factors make up what city officials are calling a tough budget year.
- The 2016 calendar has 27 pay periods, compared to 2015’s 26. The extra two-week pay period forced budget decision-makers to automatically remove $1 million to cover the extra payment for both elected and appointed officials and city employees.
- Public safety makes up 53 percent of the budget. A press release submitted immediately after council’s approval of the budget stated public safety is the city’s No. 1 priority, resulting in “a number of areas that have needs but are unfunded with this budget.” In the same release, Mayor Ditslear said, “We are still investigating alternative funding options to improve the budget. We are trying to address all of the police and fire needs. Unfortunately, the tight budget also doesn’t allow us to hire four additional police officers.”