INDIANAPOLIS -- Top officials in the mayor's office are calling it a "maintenance" budget. Mayor Greg Ballard has referred to it as "pretty vanilla." And so the 2016 spending plan for Indianapolis -- Ballard's eighth and final -- is being set up as a dull one, but there are still some areas where the City-County Council could take issue.
Ballard introduced the $1.1 billion budget Monday evening to the council, kicking off an eight-week process of budget hearings and public comments.
"You will find a budget that responsibily honors our commitment to fund the critical functions of municipal government," Ballard told councilors at the start of their meeting.
The budget holds steady on spending for most city departments and agencies, with increases coming in contractual obligations in public safety, $2 million to cover more juvenile neglect case workers, and $5 million for stormwater capital projects.
Most city departments will be forced to find cost savings -- "efficiencies" in budget lingo -- in order to balance their books for next year.
"We've had to make some tough choices along the way, but tough choices have always been a part of living within our means," Ballard said.
Revenues to the city have increased, according to city officials, up $26.2 million, but that does not make the city "cash rich," said Ballard chief of staff Jason Dudich. The mayor's budget includes a $26 million expenditure increase.
"This is one budget I actually feel pretty good about," said Democratic council president Maggie Lewis. "It may get heated as before, but I really feel a lot better with this one. Maybe it's because it's our last budget together, and I don't know necessarily people are ready to come out swinging."
The city's fund balance will be dipped into in order to balance the 2016 budget. The mayor's office has proposed using $10.8 million of the city's fund balances to pay for expenditures.
Property tax revenue is down ($4.7 million), but income tax collection is up ($4.4 million). Income tax revenue could be further boosted by a proposal to put a hold on the homestead tax credit. More on that below.
The city's debt load has shrunk 60 percent since Ballard took office, he's noted. And after next year, the city will no longer have any variable-rate debt on its balance sheet.
Ballard's budget continues a hiring effort for Indianapolis Metropolitan police officers, funding 70 new recruits for 2016, on the way to making IMPD the largest it's ever been. Last year the city hired 100 new officers. There is also funding in the budget to purchase 100 new IMPD patrol cars.
Likely to get more focus is money for body cameras. Community groups have increased the volume on their calls for the cameras following last week's fatal shooting of 15-year-old armed carjacking suspect Andre Green by IMPD officers.
IMPD ran a pilot body camera program during the first half of this year, equiping 65 officers with cameras. One of those cameras captured an earlier fatal officer-involved shooting. Public safety officials said they would seeks money to expand and continue the program even before Green's death.
In this budget, the public safety department is seeking about $200,000 to begin the body camera program. The entire program would cost between $2-4 million over five years, according to IMPD Lt. Mark Wood. Cameras cost several hundred to more than a thousand dollars each, depending on the model, but most of the cost will go to data storage.
The city is applying for two federal grants that could cover the majority of that cost. City officials though have said if the grant applications are unsuccessful, they'll find money elsewhere.
Driving forward with electric cars
Both of Indianapolis' efforts to put electric vehicles on the streets continue to be funded in the 2016 budget, despite ire over the programs from councillors.
The council and city are working through litigation over the legality of the city's contract with Vision Fleet. That company is contracted to provide about 400 electric vehicles for city departments and employees.
And then councillors are angry over the rollout and contract the city has with BlueIndy, the electric vehicle car-sharing program that's scheduled to launch Sept. 2. The lawyer for the council, Fred Besiecker, says BlueIndy should have a franchise agreement with the city, not an encroachment license. The mayor's office disagrees.
Homestead credit moratorium
The mayor is proposing a moratorium of the homestead tax credit program. Use of the tax break for homeowners has been controversial. Late last year, the council voted to use only some of that money to partially fund the city's new pre-K program. That after Ballard wanted to eliminate the credit all together.
Indianapolis set aside $10 million for the credit in 2016 (which is different from the homestead tax deduction), $2 million less than last year. Only $2 million of that is used to reduce property taxes -- about $20 a year for homeowners -- with the rest covering the circuit breaker.
Not giving that money back to property owners on their taxes will boost the city's revenue by about $6 million, which will go into the fund balance.
Democrats on the council still oppose eliminating that homestead credit all together, Lewis said Monday.
Pre-K still funded
Despite putting a hold on the use of homestead tax credits for next year, city officials say the pre-K program will still be fully funded. Just this time, money will come out of the general fund, $4.2 million in all.
The last of the Rebuild Indy money
The infrastructure improvement pot of money known as Rebuild Indy is drying up. City officials say most of that money has been spent, with just $2.9 million remaining. Ballard plans to spend the rest of that next year.
Some important dates:
- Aug. 17 - Budget introduced to council
- Aug. 18 - Budget hearings begin
- Sept. 28 - Public hearing on budget
- Oct. 12 - Expected vote and adoption of budget by council
- Nov. 2 - Budget due date