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Council proposes nearly $2 million in cuts to budget

City Council members have proposed almost $2 million in cuts to Mayor Tom Henry's $140 million spending plan.

The council will debate the proposed 2013 Fort Wayne city budget on Tuesday. On Friday, members submitted their proposed changes, including cuts to wages, building improvements and financial oversight.

In addition to the $1,968,677 in spending cuts, Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, is proposing no tax increase – a $6.2 million cut to the $112 million in revenue the city was asking for.

The state is allowing all taxing bodies to raise property taxes 2.8 percent. The mayor's budget calls for taking that increase, plus the 2.9 percent the city could have taken last year but did not. Crawford wants to reject both tax hikes, keeping the amount collected the same as it was in 2011.

Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, said the revenue cut has Crawford's name on it, but was the consensus of several council members.

Combined with the reduced spending, Harper said the budget could be a good one.

"We've proposed some cuts; I think they get us part of the way there," Harper said.

The council, however, does not have a history of being able to make spending cuts.

In the past decade, the Republican-majority body has never been able to pass spending cuts totaling more than a fraction of 1 percent of the budget. The only substantial cuts it has been able to make have been on the revenue side – forcing the administration to cut spending by refusing to raise taxes and therefore limiting the amount of money coming in.

Among the biggest proposed cuts are those by Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd. Jehl wants to cut $300,000 from the finance and administration department that had been designated for capital improvements to Citizens Square, and $500,000 from the police department budget, an amount included for the city's share of the new 911 Communications Center that Jehl said will likely be paid for from other sources.

"I'm pleased to play a part in the budget process and proud there's $2 million in cuts on the table," Jehl said. "I think we have the opportunity to make the budget a little better and a little more efficient."

Jehl said he expects Tuesday's discussion will be a good one.

"I think some of the things other council members have proposed are thought-provoking and interesting and I want to take a look at them," he said.

Harper proposes cutting the $594,420 proposed for the fire hydrant maintenance budget because it is to be paid for by a water-rate increase.

Also up for consideration is cutting the entire budget for the internal audit department, proposed by Councilman Marty Bender, R-at large. The internal audit department ensures city funds are spent properly.

Several council members proposed cutting the $3,000 designated for their own travel. The council budget had been part of the City Clerk's budget in the past; with a new, separate budget Council President Tom Smith, R-1st, included travel money so all council members could attend the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns meeting.

Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, went further, proposing that all elected officials' wages be cut by 2 percent.

The council recently granted 2 percent pay raises for all city employees; Paddock's move would take away those raises for the mayor, the clerk and council members.