Accelerated Indiana Municipalities Chief Legal Consultant Becca McCuaig presented on the pros and cons of becoming a second-class city at the June 13 Westfield City Council meeting. Councilors asked questions and conducted a public hearing after the presentation.
Westfield is the only Hamilton County city that isn’t a second-class city. A third-class city typically has less than 35,000 residents. Westfield’s population is more than 46,000.
Westfield is considering an ordinance that would change is designation to second class. If approved, the council would increase from seven to nine members. The clerk-treasurer position would be replaced by a city clerk, and a controller would be appointed by the mayor.
McCuaig said there could be more expenses with transitioning to a second-class city.
“A second-class city can incur additional expenses for salaries, because you are adding council members and a controller,” he said. “But you can balance that if the controller has an extensive fiscal degree. You can save on professional consulting fees.”
McCuaig said the average salary for a city controller in Indiana is $98,000.
McCuaig said in 10 years, Westfield’s population grew from 30,000 to more than 46,000. Westfield is the fastest-growing city in Hamilton County. In 2021, the city’s building department processed more than 1,800 building permits, 74 percent of which were for residential growth.
If the ordinance is approved, voters would elect a city clerk and the additional council members in 2023. The ordinance would take effect Jan. 1, 2024.
Prior to the public hearing, council member Troy Patton said McCuaig’s presentation wasn’t neutral. He said Westfield’s structure was cheaper than that of Fishers, Carmel and Noblesville. Fishers, Carmel and Noblesville are second-class cities.
“I’m not trying to be a jerk about it, I like the presentation,” Patton said. “It’s just not quite neutral when you show a bunch of different things that say, ‘This can be your benefit if you go to a second-class city’ because we already have benefits being a third-class city.”
During the public hearing, residents spoke for and against the ordinance.
Resident Joe Plankis, a Westfield Redevelopment Commission member, supported the ordinance.
“With our tremendous growth as the fastest-growing city in Indiana, it is way past time to take that next step to manage the financial affairs of this city,” Plankis said. “To not take this opportunity to pass this ordinance is a vote to keep Westfield the way it was 10 years ago. That’s living in the past and not looking in the future.”
Resident Judy Shuck spoke against the ordinance.
“Before becoming a second-class city, we need to learn to be a city,” she said. “We are young and there are lessons to be learned still. Since becoming a city, there have been many red flags raised on how we’ve run our city. We need to learn from our mistakes made.”
Shuck said the way the city handled its utility sale in 2014 and Grand Park’s finances are two examples of “red flags.”.
The council is expected to vote on the ordinance at its June 27 meeting. For more, visit westfield.in.gov.