Right after the Labor Day Holiday, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson highlighted the changes for the city’s 2017 budget.
In providing this overview, Freeman-Wilson stated, “Last week, we proposed a budget to the Gary Common Council which is reflective of our discussions with employees, the public and members of the Council. Two years ago, police officers and firefighters expressed valid salary concerns. While we shared their frustration about their salaries, we understood that we could only afford to phase in raises. In 2015, we added $2,500; in 2016, we added $5,000; for the 2017 budget, we are proposing $2,500 additional dollars, which would result in $10,000 being added to the salary of public safety officers. The proposal to fulfill the raise promises required us to limit our investment in other areas, however we believe it is important to value the sacrifice of public safety personnel and hope the council will agree.” The 2017 budget also proposes to purchase sorely needed police vehicles, fire apparatus and equipment. “The age and condition of the equipment used by first responders is a grave concern. This budget responds to that concern.”
Similarly, Freeman-Wilson pointed to a proposed 10 percent raise for employees who make less than $40,000 annually. “We want to ensure that individuals who work for the city of Gary make a living wage. Many of the employees who make less than $40,000 are single parents and individuals who provide direct service to the public in General Services, the Park Department and the Maintenance Department. Some of these positions have not seen raises in decades. We believe that this proposal is one way to show our gratitude.” The city anticipates increases in the cost of insurance and will take every measure to provide quality health care to city workers and their dependents.
Also included in the proposal is funding to purchase heavy equipment that will assist in city services in the areas of snow removal, tree trimming and demolition. While the budget proposal reflects the proposed utilization of dollars from the general fund, city staff continue to look for funding outside of the general fund to meet the needs of residents. Recently, the city of Gary received over $4 million in County Option Income Tax Refund dollars. Over $3 million of those dollars were set aside for paving. Additionally, the city received a grant of $1 million from the Indiana Department of Transportation. These dollars will also be used for paving. Next week, the city administration will propose uses for Local Development Agreement Casino Dollars to support city projects and services. Additionally, the city has worked hard to maximize the use of Hardest Hit Fund demolition dollars awarded by the State of Indiana and expect to receive more dollars for demolition.
Freeman-Wilson acknowledged the continued resource challenges that face the community. “We understand that a declining tax base and collection rate have an adverse impact on our budget. That is why innovations like Public Safety Officers, combined jobs, and interdepartmental teams are so important. I also appreciate the residents who maintain neighboring vacant property and volunteer for city-wide cleanup efforts in recognition of a legacy city plagued by the decline in industry.”
Freeman-Wilson reminded employees and the public that the Gary Common Council has the final word on the budget. She also recognizes that part of the budget discussion will include the consideration of the city’s hiring ordinance. “I look forward to discussing all aspects of the budget with members of the Gary Common Council and I have faith in the council’s ability to be fair and vigilant in their deliberations.”