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City to begin budget meetings

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GREENFIELD — A new position could be carved into the 2013 city budget, placing the supervision of Greenfield’s three utilities on the shoulders of Mike Fruth.

Fruth, the city’s engineer, would become utility manager under a proposal written by Mayor Dick Pasco. Greenfield’s assistant engineer, Karla Vincent, would be promoted to city engineer.

The proposal is just one piece of what is expected to be a lengthy discussion of salaries, raises, fire protection, building projects and more today.

The Greenfield City Council will meet at 6 p.m. today in a budget workshop. Historically, the council meets two or three times before holding a public hearing and giving final approval. But tonight, 11 departments are scheduled to speak about their wish-list expenses; if the council does not get through all the departments today, it will meet again at 6 p.m. Friday.

“If they stay focused and not get off to a side discussion, it’s conceivable to do it in one night,” said Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese. “But (they’re) going to be here past midnight.”

Pasco’s proposal about a utility manager stems from Fruth’s experience. Currently, it’s the mayor’s job to directly oversee the electric, water and wastewater utilities.

But Pasco said Fruth, a city employee for 26 years, works with utilities on a regular basis. As utility manager, he would be more hands-on.

“I still have the final say; it doesn’t mean I’m washing my hands of the utilities entirely,” Pasco said. “We’re just putting someone in there that is closer to utilities on a daily basis.”

Pasco said the move would free up more time for him to be active in the community. He said attending city events and listening to constituent concerns is a priority for him.

Fruth’s $97,456 salary could be paid out of the utility budgets, which are supported by ratepayers. Pasco said that would save money for the tax-funded side of government. The move would save the civil side of government $54,084 because of the shift of Fruth’s salary to rate-based utility budgets. It would not mean an increase in utility rates, Pasco added.

Vincent’s promotion to city engineer would raise her salary by $13,287. The assistant engineer position would not be filled, Pasco said.

The move could make the city’s utilities – which have become a big business – run as efficiently as possible, Fruth said.

In fact, that’s one reason why many cities have a utility manager, Matt Greller says. Greller, director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, said many cities with at least 7,500 residents have utility managers who can look across all of the city’s utilities for cost savings. Utility managers can also be a one-stop contact for prospective new businesses to ask questions of, Greller said.

Even without the addition of a utility manager to Greenfield’s budget, this year’s financial outlook is better than last year’s.

In 2011, the city council had to reduce wish-list expenses by $1.2 million. The council pared back department requests and did not give salary raises. When the Indiana Department of Local Government finance reviewed Greenfield’s budget, officials said it had to be slashed by an additional 3 percent.

This year, departments in the general fund are asking for $7.2 million, which is up from this year’s budget of $6.7 million. But Breese said the city could be getting more revenue this year due to the increase in population with the 2010 census.

The city is also expecting a monthly bump in income taxes, due to the state of Indiana late last year discovering it had been erroneously withholding revenue from municipalities.

Breese said the $7.2 million in requests is about $300,000 under the maximum amount the city will be allowed to gather in taxes. While revenue projections are still in a state of flux – property tax assessments have not been finalized yet – Breese said if the city council keeps the budget the way it is now, there may not be a huge effect on residential property taxes.

In fact, if the city’s overall assessed value increases, the tax rate for Greenfield could decrease.

Penciled into the proposed city budget is a 3 percent pay raise for full-time employees. Council budget chairmen Kerry Grass and Greg Carwein asked for that number to be plugged in as a starting point for discussion.

Pasco said he also asked department heads to cut back on their budgets by 3 percent. Breese said some did that; others didn’t.

In addition to salary raises, another point of discussion will be health insurance benefits. This year, the city is under what has been called a “Cadillac” plan that Pasco says the city can’t afford in the long run.

A committee is still looking into switching to another health insurance plan, and that could be decided later this year. Pasco said that could be a reason to vote for some kind of pay raise.

“I don’t want employees to lose ground, so I’d hope we have enough to at least cover the higher deductible,” Pasco said.

This year’s budget hearing will also be different from last year because of the people involved. This is Pasco’s first year as mayor; Breese said last year, former Mayor Brad DeReamer, who was on his way out of office, spent little time on the budget and kept mostly quiet during budget hearings.

There are also three new council members this year. Judy Swift, Gary McDaniel and John Patton are all freshmen who will be weighing in on a city budget for the first time.

Pasco said that could lead to more discussion and questions tonight, meaning the conversation could have to be continued at a second meeting Friday.

Other topics of discussion at tonight’s meeting will include the city’s fire territory budget, which was slashed drastically last year when the Indiana Department of Local Government finance ruled Center Township residents shouldn’t be paying as much as city residents in taxes for fire protection.

The issue is still being debated in state tax court. If Greenfield loses its case, Pasco said the city may have to use income tax funds to make up the difference.

The council may also discuss a new building for the Greenfield Parks Department. The storage building was requested last year but denied.

Pasco has been recovering from surgery for seven weeks. While he has mostly been working from home, he was back in the office all last week. He plans to be present for the duration of tonight’s meeting.

Pasco acknowledges that the city budget is ultimately the council’s decision, but he also has years of budget knowledge from serving as budget chairman while he was on the city council.

“I really tried to shift to the other side in fairness to the council,” Pasco said. “I don’t think I’ll be real vocal (at the budget workshop).”

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