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Greenfield City Council leaves checkbook open for now

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GREENFIELD — All city employees will get a raise in 2015, and the police and fire departments will get an even bigger boost to their paychecks.

A $3,000 raise for the city’s police and fire departments was approved by the Greenfield City Council Thursday; the rest of the city’s employees will get a 3 percent raise.

In fact, nearly every budget request was approved this week, and Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese says the state department that oversees local spending likely won’t accept the 2015 budget.

“My assumption is, there’ll be cuts that’ll have to be made,” Breese said, adding that the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance will review the budget and the council might have to decide after the first of the year where to reduce spending.

But at least this week, the council wasn’t ready to reduce spending requests. Some even talked about giving a $3,000 raise to every employee, or increasing salaries by 4 percent.

“They didn’t get a penny last year,” said Councilman Mitch Pendlum. “They’ve worked hard; I think we’ve got some of the best city employees anywhere. We’ve had bad weather, bad issues, but we always come out on top.”

The city’s police and fire chiefs had asked for a $3,000 raise to help their compensation in line with what other nearby agencies pay. The council discussed inequality in pay raises among all city employees; the police and fire departments have promotions and utility departments have apprentice programs where employees are given raises as they complete training. They also discussed hiring a human resources employee to ensure pay and benefits are fair across all departments.

In the end, the council decided to hold off a year on an HR director, and grant the raises to the departments as requested. The 3 percent raise is included for the mayor and clerk-treasurer; the city council and board of works will not get raises.

Budget hearings were held Tuesday through Thursday, and most of the final decisions about staffing were made Thursday. The council agreed to hire a new employee for the planning office. The $40,000 entry-level planner will free zoning administrator Joanie Fitzwater to update the city’s comprehensive plan.

The council also agreed the fire department can hire three new firefighters/paramedics. Fire Chief James Roberts has pointed to increasing emergencies over the last decade in Greenfield, and while there are still questions over funding for the fire territory because of a Center Township tax cut made in 2011, the council agreed the department needs more help.

Still, they said if the state forces more cuts to be made at the beginning of the year, that may be one place to make a reduction. The state agency weighs the maximum amount of taxation the city is allowed to collect against proposed expenditures.

“I may come to you in January and say, ‘The (state) needs you to cut $1 million from your budget,’” Breese said. “You’re the fiscal body; you tell me where to cut.”

Roughly $400,000 had to be cut from most of the city’s budgets going into the budget hearings, based on expected revenue to come into the city.

The council decided to approve all of the grant requests from nonprofit organizations, but they will dip into income tax dollars earmarked for economic development for the grants.

Breese made the suggestion, saying that would help the city’s general tax coffers.

“We’re so upside down,” Breese said.

Skip Kuker, head of the Hancock Economic Development Council, said state law allows County Economic Development Income Tax revenue to be used for anything that helps a community’s quality of life, from the Boys & Girls Clubs to flowers along downtown sidewalks.

Budget chairman Kerry Grass said he didn’t see this year’s budgeting as any different from previous years. He said the council will deal with cuts when the time comes.

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