Thursday, September 12, 2013

Trib-Star Reports Residents can Preview Terre Haute's 2014 Budget

From the Terre Haute Tribune-Star:

The city’s 2014 budget may get some close attention tonight in City Hall.

In a public hearing at 5:45 p.m., city officials will listen to any members of the public who wish to ask questions or raise points about the approximately $89 million proposal.

The same meeting will cover the 2014 sanitary district budget.

Typically, few – if any – members of the general public attend such budget hearings, but this year could be different as members of the City Council have raised questions about the health of the city’s finances, even hiring their own financial consultant.

Council concern has focused on the city’s general fund budget, which pays for many day-to-day expenses, such as city employees’ salaries and benefits. The proposed 2014 general fund budget is $33.7 million, according to city budget documents filed with the state.

The city has been spending millions more each year than it has received in revenue, said Councilman John Mullican, D-6th and chairman of the council’s finance committee. “That sort of plan isn’t sustainable.”

While city officials have advertised a 2014 budget with a $33 million general fund, the city is very unlikely to actually receive that much money, said Leslie Ellis, city controller. City officials advertise a high budget figure in an effort to receive maximum funding from the state, she said.

“The goal right now is to ensure the maximum levy” to best support city services, Ellis said. The greater the levy, the greater the city’s flexibility, she said.

Advertising a greater figure than expected is the same process followed by other local taxing entities and is nothing new, Ellis said. “There is no difference in the process for the school corporation and the city,” she said.

The city receives its largest revenue payments from the state of Indiana just twice each year, and officials seldom know very far in advance how much those payments will be. That makes tying down actual spending figures difficult, Ellis said. Another difficulty is that the city’s assessed values are still unknown for 2014, she said.

What’s more, while the City Council is expected to approve the budget in October, the state Department of Local Government Finance often doesn’t approve the budget until February or even March, Ellis said.