FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A City Council staff expansion is among the biggest planned increases in Mayor Tom Henry’s proposed 2021 budget. Fewer sidewalk and alley improvements are among the biggest differences when compared to 2020.
On Tuesday, Fort Wayne City Council began talks over the 2021 budget – a discussion that was approved to continue Tuesday, October 6th. WANE 15 has been going through the budget in search of the biggest changes, compared to 2020, and why they exist.
City Council Staff Expansion
A 21% increase in City Council’s budget is among the highest increases compared to 2020. The category with the biggest change is “Wages.” The suggested budgeted amount has increased to $393,000 compared to $304,000.
While councilmembers could be getting a pay raise set at 3%, it doesn’t cover the full increase. Council has been considering a plan to add a citizen neighborhood liaison position while making adjustments to other support staff roles.
“Unlike other departments who can work this all out behind the scenes, these decisions for Council, as an elected body, will be done publically,” Council Administrator Megan Flohr said in a statement. “A small group came together earlier in the year to assess the needs of the department and this was the recommendation to take to the whole Council.”
While money has been planned out to be used for salaries, the amount may eventually be cut to what is actually needed. According to Flohr, money can be cut from the budget, but not added.
Police Merit Commission
A massive 484% increase to the Police Merit Commission budget, compared to 2020 is not all all that it seems, according to a city spokesman. A better picture emerges from examining the 2021 proposal to the 2019 budget, because specific funds are needed every-other year. That comparison shows a cut.
“The police department does testing every other year for promotions,” John Perlich explained. “2021 is a testing year so the police merit commission members receive a per diem for their meetings and interviews of the promotion candidates thus the increase in the salary line. The balance of the increase in their budget is for testing booklets and the scoring of the tests for the applicants.”
Sidewalk and Alley Improvements
The biggest financial cut compared to 2020 comes in the form of neighborhood improvements. According to the City Controller’s presentation of proposed budgets, $8 million was pledged to sidewalk and alley improvements in 2020. $2.5 million has been planned for similar projects in 2021.
Several cutbacks have been made in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the mayor’s office, “the budget was designed in a way to continue to provide essential services to residents, neighborhoods, and businesses while also setting aside funds to be able to address future financial uncertainties as a result of the pandemic.”
A balanced budget was cut back because of expected drops in gasoline, vehicle excise and income taxes. As a result, non-critical projects have been delayed and operating expenditures have been reduced.