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Gary approves 2020 budget after heated meeting

The Gary City Council on Tuesday, October 22, approved its 2020 budget with a $56.3 million general fund, which is a $2.8 million increase from last year’s budget.

The budget passed by a 6-3 vote. Council members LaVetta Sparks Wade, D-6th; Rebecca Wyatt, D-1st; and Carolyn Rogers, D-4th voted against the budget proposal. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the budget will cover the increased costs for utilities and phone services.

“This budget reflects ‘truth in spending’ for the first time in decades,” said Freeman-Wilson. “The $2.8 million increase represents the accurate listing of costs for utilities, insurance and a modest raise for general services workers who are woefully underpaid for the work they do. At the same time, the city will have the cash flow to meet its obligations for the first time in many years. We passed a budget that relies on $56 million from the General Fund. The [Jerome] Prince administration will be able to pay those obligations in 2020 and not defer payments until 2021 as long as the Sale Leaseback closes and the city adheres to the Financial Recovery plan.”

During the council meeting, Mayor Freeman-Wilson acknowledged the administration had not met the letter of the contract by providing 14-day advance notice to the employee union prior to submitting the budget proposal to the Council. At the same time, the mayor indicated the changes, contemplating the elimination of positions would not occur until the beginning of 2020 and that her team was working to ensure that every person whose position is eliminated would be offered another position.

Freeman-Wilson said, “We value our union employees and have always been up front with union members about the impact of finances on city staff. We have eliminated union and non-union positions, but have always looked to minimize displacement.”

The Freeman-Wilson administration has continued to implement measures to ease the city’s structural budget deficit. Most recently, the sale leaseback was proposed that will provide for the infusion of up to $40 million dollars into city coffers. While there have been successes over the past seven years in reducing city expenses, the city has continued to experience a reduction in property tax and casino revenue.

Freeman-Wilson said, “We understand that there is a tendency to politicize the budget process. Some council members used budget time to curry favor with union members.  This is not a game of “us vs. them” but of creating a solid financial foundation so that we can provide the best services to the citizens of this community. For the first time in decades, the city of Gary will enter into a new year without a structural deficit. That is a win for the city and the citizens.”

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