Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Star Catches On To Budget Shortfall Facing Indianapolis

The Star finally has a story about just how much in fewer revenues the City of Indianapolis expects to collect next year as a result of the deep economic recession. Before it's all done and said, I'm anticipating the City will wind up with close to $100 million in fewer revenues next year than it had to spend in this year's $1.22 billion budget. City Controller David Reynolds tells the Star's Francesca Jarosz about the $50 million drop in income tax revenues anticipated, as well as about $32 million less in property tax collections. I further anticipate a drop in federal grant monies Washington has rained down on state and local governments the past two years from unprecedented borrowing at the federal level that has left our nation in financial ruin. City leaders thnk 5% cuts across the board will suffice, including Public Safety for the first time. Dream on.

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."

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.

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.

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.


DazedAndConfusedInIndy said...

I think you are overlooking the benifit and savings the city receives by officers who are employed by businesses in an off duty security capacity. By employing off duty police officers business eliminate the need for on duty officers to respond to run to that particular business. How many runs for police service are elimnated by off duty officers working in Broadripple? Also many officers work for apartments. These communities require significantly less police services while these off duty officers are working thereby reducing the work load of on duty officers and ultimately saving the city and tax payers money.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Gary, I know the idea of compensation to the city for off-duty police work by IMPD and Sheriff's Officers has been bandied about by city officials since Peterson was in office. Maybe this year.... It is a good idea.

You also raised on your blog, as I recall, the refurnishing of Straub's office. Unless it was with used furniture already owned by the city, then there was even more of that famous 'fluff' in the Director of Public Safety's office budget.

Last year the Ballard administration led everyone to think that there was going to be a $30 million shortfall, when in fact, the budget grew by $65 million. So, I'll just wait and see the numbers before I believe if and how much of a shortfall 2011 will bring.

And, lest we forget, just a few weeks ago the CIB was so flush with excess cash that it could afford to promise the Pacers $33.5 million over 3 years. The decisions being made by the Ballard administration certainly seem to be aimed at making a small handful of people even more wealthy, while showing no remorse in making budget cuts that negatively impact the quality of life of most of Indy's residents.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Nobody is trying to take away the benefit of police officers working off-duty security jobs. I am simply saying we should recoup a reasonable amount of money that is being made by the police officers and the private security companies from using taxpayer-funded resources. When other cities have implemented these fees, it has not prevented police officers from working off duty in private security jobs.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Dazed - nobody is banning off duty work.

Gary R. Welsh said...

That handout to billionaire Herb Simon is really going to bite Ballard in the ass hard. He looked pretty stupid on the news last night trying to explain that he knew the Pacers were trying really hard to clean up their act in the wake of Lance Stephenson's arrest for felony assault this past weekend. The fact is the Pacers send are poor role models for the city's youth, who are committing so many of the crimes we are now experiencing.

Cato said...

Give me a break. There is no evidence, whatsoever, that the cost of an officer having a uniform and car in private employment reduces crime to a value greater than the expense.

Ditto take-home cars. In fact economic studies have shown take-home cars to be an economic dud with no measurable impact on crime, largely because cops earn huge salaries and choose not to live in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

It's long past time to end the failed take-home car policy.

Had Enough Indy? said...

On the take home cars, we haven't even taken the first step - which is to figure out how much money the taxpayers are shelling out for the perk.

DazedAndConfusedInIndy said...

Granted, other cities have done that, and if done correctly it could be a good thing. However I havnt seen our city do much that has come from common sense thinking in recent months. I just have visions of the city taking over the assignments of part time employment where the "good old boy" system would be in full effect, or the city dictating a higher price that businesses are unwilling to pay and deciding to to with Johnny Plastic badge security instead.

Gary R. Welsh said...

On take home car privileges, I have a friend who has a company car. His company automatically deducts over $160 a month from his paychecks, plus he has to annually pay income tax on a certain percentage of the value of the car attributed to him as income, which I believe is about $9,000. Frankly, the best way of saving money is to end pensions for all government employees. Let them fund their own retirement funds and rely on social security like the rest of us.

Jon said...

So how much money does the city save by the state picking up the police and fire pensions? What did the city do with those dollars?

Cato said...

Ooooh, at 9:58, Gary crushes the pitch into the stands.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Jon, They needed most of that money they saved just to pay for the 7% pay raises under the current contract for police and firefighters.

Had Enough Indy? said...

That $30 million per year more than paid for the raises. They also went nuts buying vehicles for the police and DPW. And, on a more practical note, they increased the cash balances for public safety without cutting their budgets - while making Parks cut into Parks budgets to improve those balances.

After spending all this money, they claimed there wasn't enough to hire the 100 officers and blamed it on Peterson.

DazedAndConfusedInIndy said...

Cato. What expense are you speaking of? The cost of the equipment that is issued to police officers anyway? Also do you have any idea what you are talking about with crime reduction? Every part time job I gave worked as an officer I have taken runs that would have been dispatched to an on duty officer had I not been there. Also looking at the apartments I work at there gave been no robberies or shootings this summer since off duty police have been staffing the property. Last year they were swamped with robberies. Can you not see how this saves money and man power for the city?

Cato said...

Dazed, why should the apartments have to pay twice for police protection? Further, why should the taxpayers have to pay for a car that is used for the disproportionate benefit of a private party?

How much crime is prevented by what expenditure in cars, training, uniforms and authority that is used for private benefit? That's the empirical question.

What you're saying is that crime is only reduced when an armed presence is nearby. If that's true, then the economically rational plan is to cancel the police and let private parties contract for their own security.

As a conservative, I'm fine with this, as I've been arguing for this, for years.

Your post merely reinforced my argument.

DazedAndConfusedInIndy said...

If you had met many of the security guards who work for private companies you would know why many places especially apartments in high crime areas want police. As for cost of training and equipment that cost is not doubled when private companies hire off duty officers so complaing about the cost is not a valid argument. As far as the car goes if they took it away the companies would still hire us and I would still work.
As to you not understanding why apartments need police presence more than the normal on duty coverage to prevent crime you obviously have not spent much time in a high crime area. These areas are so busy that on duty officers do not have time to spend guarding properties.so the apartments hire off duty officers to maintain a police presence on their specific property.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Dazed - you and fellow officers are making money from the City provided equipment and training. Just because you worry that your extra jobs will drop in frequency or dollar amount, is not a good enough reason to void the idea that the taxpayer should be able to recoup some of their investment. Consider it rent, if you like. But, if its good enough to churn some dollars for you, then I think that the taxpayers should get some monetary relief from your off duty use of their equipment.

DazedAndConfusedInIndy said...

And the are not paying twice. Paying money to the city for off duty officers would be paying twice and would be wrong. They are purchasing "security officers" that just happen to be police officers.