Leaders approve budget

Columbus officials respond to petition

City leaders have approved a $54.2 million budget for 2017 despite objections from 13 residents who signed a petition questioning the proposed budget and tax rate.

The petition alleged that the city administration misrepresented the proposed budget as $53.4 million while the ordinance considered by council members stood at $54.2 million.

In the city’s formal response to the petition during Tuesday’s Columbus City Council meeting, finance director Jamie Brinegar said the proposed tax rate for 2017 presented during the Oct. 4 council meeting was 1.3574 per $100 of assessed valuation, while the rate for this year was 1.53.

That translates to an 11 percent decrease, Brinegar said.

Petitioners sought to have the city compare its 2017 advertised rate to its 2016 certified rate, Brinegar said, calling that “an apples-and-oranges comparison.”

Brinegar previously said he expects the city’s proposed tax rate to be reduced once it is certified by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. He said the certified rate typically has been different and lower than the advertised rate, adding that he expects that to continue for 2017.

The certified rate will not be released until February or March of next year, Brinegar said.

Meanwhile, Brinegar said while the city shows a spending plan totaling $53.4 million next year, it also plans to spend $797,653 from accumulated Economic Development Income Tax revenues on capital projects.

As a result, those numbers contribute to a $54.2 million budget for 2017.

Budget highlights include:

$8.1 million in capital improvements, including $1.75 million in road work for the Maple Street connector project and a redesign of the Taylor Road and Westenedge Drive intersection.

$1.2 million for hangar improvements at the Columbus Municipal Airport and for restaurant improvements.

$550,000 to replace 14 police vehicles and an additional $125,000 to improve the city’s public safety training grounds.

$322,000 for repairs at Fire Station 1 downtown to include roof and heating and air conditioning repairs.

$1 million to replace two ColumBUS vehicles. Capital purchases in the city’s transit department are eligible for an 80 percent reimbursement from the federal government, which will be placed in the city’s general fund.

$162,000 for upgrades at Columbus City Hall to replace carpet, ceiling tiles and possibly furniture in the council chambers that can’t be repaired.

In addition, the city will boost its manpower in the Columbus Police Department by hiring two civilians and one patrol officer. The city also plans to hire an assistant director of human resources, two seasonal employees in the traffic department and has set aside $50,000 for a comprehensive study of city wages and benefits.

However, some of the points raised in the city’s response to the petition drew criticism.

Russell Poling Sr., one of the 13 individuals who signed the budget petition, said it shouldn’t matter who is challenging accuracy of the budget.

“We have a right to do it,” Poling said. “It doesn’t matter if we ran for office or not.”

Resident David Jones was also critical about a number of points raised by Brinegar in the city’s response to the petition. Brinegar said the city held no public meetings on the proposed 2016 budget last year, but Jones said that was irrelevant.

Jones also said the amount of additional appropriations requested by the previous administration during the first four months of 2014 and 2015 cited by Brinegar also had no bearing on the petition.

Former Mayor Kristen Brown, who was defeated by Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop in the 2015 primary election and was among residents who signed the petition, also spoke regarding the city’s response and asked officials to be forthcoming.

“Let’s all be honest about it,” she said. “It’s misleading. We just want the truth and transparency.”

Besides Brown, Poling and Jones, the petition was signed by Joseph Swaim, Phillip Weick, Kathleen Weick, Glenn Petri, Rick Hand, Deborah Kramer, Tamara Kiel, Russell Poling Jr., Sharon Scobel and Kenneth Scobel.

Council members approved a resolution that acknowledged and accepted objections to the 2017 budget and the administration’s findings of facts in a 5-1 vote.

Councilwoman Laurie Booher had voted against the resolution, and Councilman Frank Miller was absent.

Booher said she did so because she wanted a reduction in the number of words within the city’s response, making it easier to understand.

Council members voted 6-0 to approve the 2017 budget.

Officials also signaled their support for a resolution to increase the number of riverfront liquor license permits from 10 to 15. The number had been previously increased from five to 10 in 2010, according to the city.