City spending plan draws fire; officials support additional $2.4 million

2 residents voice opposition

City leaders are defending plans to spend an additional $2.4 million out of its general fund, despite criticism from supporters of the former mayor.

Columbus City Council gave initial approval Tuesday to spend the money, then will vote on it for a final time at the council’s May 2 meeting.

Finance director Jamie Brinegar explained how the additional funding became available.

The city had received its final property tax cap credit numbers from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, which required that the city use an estimated figure of $3.6 million as its property tax credits when developing its 2017 budget, Brinegar said. However, the final property tax credit number came out at $2 million, he said.

The city also requested that the state increase its maximum levy amount in February, which provides the city with almost $1 million in additional revenue, Brinegar said. Of the $2.4 million from the city’s general fund, $2.2 million of that is designated for capital projects, he added.

Projects that are part of the additional appropriation include $250,000 for heating and air conditioning upgrades for Fire Station 1, $5,000 for the mayor’s substance-abuse initiative and $85,000 for a Department of Public Works 1-ton truck with a spreader, Brinegar said.

Most of the funding, however, is to be used for different parks department projects, including playground upgrades.

After spending plans were detailed, local residents Ken Fudge and David Jones told Mayor Jim Lienhoop they thought he wasn’t being fiscally responsible with city funds.

Fudge and Jones supported Kristen Brown in her attempt for re-election in 2015, when she lost in the Republican primary to Lienhoop. Brown attended Tuesday’s meeting but did not address the council or Lienhoop.

Jones asked, for example, why the council was considering appropriating $3,500 in general fund money toward mileage for the city code enforcement officer, Fred Barnett. Jones called that an example of poor planning, suggesting that Lienhoop had not delivered on his mayoral campaign promise to be more fiscally conservative with taxpayer money.

In addition, Jones questioned appropriating $25,174 toward a part-time position in the city’s redevelopment office. The city hired Jayne Farber as a consultant in November to work on projects and organize meeting schedules.

The terms of the one-year consulting agreement between both parties stipulated that Farber would work 20 hours a week, earning $35 an hour as a consulting fee not to exceed $36,000 over 12 months. However, Lienhoop said Farber’s position will be eliminated as of June 30, noting the city will advertise for a part-time employee in the redevelopment office.

Jones asked council members if they have seen a proposed job description for the part-time position.

“What does it include?” Jones said. “What’s the actual salary?”

He also alleged that Farber was performing administrative work in her role, saying doing so amounted to a Level 5 felony criminal offense.

“We have the statutes that show how you can and cannot use the funds,” he said.

Lienhoop said the city plans to advertise for the proposed part-time position, which is expected to start July 1, in the redevelopment office. He said the role will involve some administrative responsibilities, and that Farber is welcome to apply for the position if she wishes.

Rules on speaking

A brief exchange of words between Fudge and Lienhoop occurred during the meeting after Lienhoop requested that Fudge disclose his name and address before speaking at the meeting.

Fudge told the mayor he preferred not to give his name and address because of safety reasons, as council meetings are streamed live online.

However, streaming meetings live online was part of a transparency effort that was approved and funded during the Brown administration.

“It just seems like it’s ridiculous, archaic and it’s not needed,” Fudge said of being required to identify himself.

After Fudge refused to reveal his identity or address, Lienhoop allowed the resident to address the council anyway.

When that happened, council member Frank Jerome said the council’s rules about addressing the council members during a meeting weren’t being followed — and then left the meeting.

City ordinance indicates that the presiding officer — the mayor or his replacement if he is absent — determines who gets to speak.

Fudge said after the meeting he decided to address the council, saying he didn’t think providing his name was necessary.

“They should be very pleased that I came to their meeting to offer advice or wisdom … and they should welcome that,” Fudge said.

Jones told the council that the $2.4 million in additional appropriations seemed excessive.

“That’s not holding up to his end of the bargain,” Jones said of Lienhoop. “I don’t think he’s doing a good job fiscally.”

Lienhoop responded to the criticism, calling it “small-town politics.”

The allegations laid out by Fudge and Jones weren’t true, Lienhoop said. “Politics is what’s driving that.”

City ordinance on rules to speak during a meeting

City ordinance 2.02.070 on addressing the council says:

“No one not a member shall be permitted to address the common council except by permission of the presiding officer or by a majority vote of the council; provided, that any officer of the city or his authorized deputy may, when called upon by the presiding officer, make a report or give desired information.”

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com