Indianapolis' public safety agencies may have to cut up to 5 percent of their budgets next year, but city officials insisted that will not mean fewer police or firefighters on the streets.
In the past two years, the city has requested 5 percent cuts of most other city departments, but sworn agencies such as police, fire and sheriff were exempted and received budget increases for pay raises.
Not this year. The city is facing its most grim financial forecast since Mayor Greg Ballard took office in 2008, and all departments are expected to share in that pain.
"Revenues are sufficiently down (enough) that we've been looking at those operations to see if we can find efficiencies," said city Controller David Reynolds. "At some point when your revenue gets stretched, you've got to be able to look at all opportunities."
Officials said the proposed cuts could eliminate one of two police recruit classes, reduce training, slash equipment costs and provide no union pay increases for police officers next year. But the city said it would not lay off police officers or firefighters and would continue to fill vacancies.
Widespread unemployment means the city will bring in $50 million less in income tax revenue in 2011 than it did this year.
A drop in assessed values for about 40 percent of county properties is expected to cause property taxes to dwindle by 18 percent in the wake of this year's $27 million drop. That will create a projected property tax shortfall of $32 million next year.
Along with the cuts, city leaders plan to tap a $17 million rainy day fund to help close the gap. The 2011 plan is expected to be less than this year's $1.22 billion budget.I got news for you folks. There has never been a rainy day fund. Only by budget gimmickry has the Ballard administration been able to claim the existence of a pot of $17 million sitting out there. Public Safety is being asked to trim $16.3 million according to Jarosz' story.
"I don't know we'll get to the 5 percent," said Frank Straub, the city's public safety director. "(But) we have an obligation to be respectful of the budget process and to participate in reductions to the point where it doesn't affect public safety operations."Straub might want to start by making cuts in his own office, which is being packed with high paid political hacks, useless assistant directors and transfers in from the police department who are being given big pay raises so he can build his own secret police force. Pat Andrews tells Jarosz the City should rethink its take-home car policy for police. I've suggested a proposal for several years now to bring in millions annually to cover policing costs. Stop letting police officers hire themselves out to private security companies dressed in uniform and equipped with their police cruisers and other policing gear without providing any compensation for the use of those services to the City. Other major cities collect millions in fees from private security companies that use uniformed police officers for private security work while they are off duty.
To do that, Straub is looking for ways to trim fixed costs such as building leases by moving police districts into spaces with cheaper rent. He's also attempting to streamline. The city plans to merge two Westside fire stations into a new facility, and more fire station consolidations could follow.
Police forces likely won't be increased next year. So far, Straub is planning one police recruit class for 2011 instead of two.
And under the proposed new police union contract, officers would get about 7 percent -- or $19 million -- in raises over the next four years, with the potential for the city to renegotiate after two years if revenues remain low. That's compared with $40 million in raises under the previous four-year contract.
As the City ponders these cuts, here's some food for thought. Mayor Ballard started his administration with a $90 million a year windfall from the higher income tax former Mayor Bart Peterson and his Democratic council enacted in 2007, which Ballard opposed, for the express purpose of funding public safety and paying off nearly a half billion dollars in unfunded public safety pension debt. Part of that money was to be spent hiring 100 new police officers. Ballard never used the money to hire those additional police officers. He used some federal stimulus money to temporarily pay the salaries of 50 new police officers in this year's budget. Further, the state picked up the City's unfunded pension liability, which allowed it to forego a bond issue that would have cost the City $25 to $30 million annually. The 2011 budget will be the first time Ballard has been forced to make any tough budget decisions. We'll see soon enough if he fairs the test any better than Peterson did.
On the subject of Frank Straub, Fox 59 News' Russ McQuaid picked up on an issue I raised a little more than a week ago about how Straub had compromised the shooting investigation in a northwest side city neighborhood that left six shot and two persons dead by shooting off his mouth. Straub boldly told local news media that police had identified the shooter and would be making an arrest within one, two or three days. It's now been 2 weeks and the shooter or shooters have still not been arrested. McQuaid said police sources told him Straub's remarks resulted in witnesses not wanting to talk and perhaps led to the destruction of evidence before it could be gathered by police.
Straub also has egg on his face for naming controversial radio talk show host Abdul Hakim Shabazz to a newly-formed public safety advisory board. His "friend", as Straub calls him, recently advocated the use of police brutality against juvenile offenders. "This is going to sound really bad, and maybe it’s just the anger talking, but as far as I’m concerned after Saturday night, if an officer has to use excessive force to keep young people like the ones who did the shooting under control then so be it," Shabazz said. "That is not my problem and I frankly don’t care." In a blog post from a couple of years ago, Shabazz made this comment: "Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of reading or watching another story about violence in this community." "And while I’m all for crime prevention, I’m falling back into my old belief that what this town needs are a couple good police beatings."
This is not the first time Shabazz, who admits he's an Illinois resident and not a resident of the City of Indianapolis has been the center of controversy. Shabazz became the target of a police investigation after it was learned he had anonymously published a blog, IndyUndercover, during the 2007 mayoral election that used police-related issues to attack Mayor Bart Peterson, giving the impression the blog was actually being anonymously written by city police. The blog endangered the life of a confidential police informant, a young pregnant woman, in an arson investigation when it identified her on the blog. When police attempted to execute a search warrant on Shabazz to determine who leaked the informant's identity, he ran and blogged that he was being targeted by the Peterson administration because he was preparing an investigative report on child molestation allegations against a prominent local Democratic businessman without mentioning the issue of the outing of the confidential police informant. Shabazz' alleged investigative report went nowhere, and he promptly deleted the IndyUndercover blog from the Internet.