By David Denson, Gary Crusader
Against a backdrop of stagnant, and in some cases declining revenues in the city of Gary, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson presented a five year plan that sets out to address those concerns.
Freeman-Wilson’s plan was presented during a community meeting Tuesday, July 10 at the Art House.
During her talk Freeman-Wilson spoke of the various situations that led to the city’s current financial situation and what has been done to address the problems. Gary has had to deal with several issues that have had a negative effect on the city’s revenue stream and growth potential. Among those were the state mandated property tax cap, and the declining population, which caused a decline in property tax revenue.
The mayor noted that the city has received over $110 million in revenue and $124 million in expenses. The mayor said there is around $45-50 million that are unrestricted funds; the other is restricted through grants, tax requirements and other obligations. “When you see that $110 million figure there are only so many dollars in the amount that can be used in a way that is unrestricted.”
“Over the course of 2012, because that’s when I came in, we have seen that expenses have gone down, with the exception of 2014 when we did approximately $14 million in payments. That was able to be done because we got dollars that had been withheld from the casino funds.”
The mayor said in the past six years, the city has reduced expenses, but not to the same extent as reducing revenue. “So, when people talk about a structural deficit that is what they are talking about. That doesn’t make it any better, it just explains what it is.
“We are looking to change that narrative and change what that structural deficit looks like. There are some things that are going to occur over the next five years to change this narrative,” said Freeman-Wilson.
One of the areas being looked at is cost reduction measures in procurement of services, along with a review and change in policies. “Many departments order the same things and we believe that by centralizing the process and controlling the inventory we can save $190,000. There are some things that we do now that are simply not consistent, and we are in the process of conducting a full review and the information we have collected leads us to believe that we can save $200,000,” noted Freeman-Wilson.
Changing the city’s health care plan is another area where cost savings can be implemented. It is estimated the $1 million monthly the city pays in health insurance could be cut by $750,000.
Professional services contracts and fees, according to Freeman-Wilson, come from the city’s legal department and represent a significant amount.
The administration is in the process of reducing its footprint by seeking to sell several city-owned buildings. Among the buildings and properties being considered for sale are the Genesis Convention Center, the Hudson-Campbell Fitness Center, the City Hall annex located at 839 Broadway and the Gleason Park Golf Course.
“The $1.5 million savings will come from consolidating offices from 839 Broadway to 504 Broadway and 555 Polk Street and the Gary Public Transit Building, all of which we own,” Freeman-Wilson said. A proposed lease buy back of the Public Safety Building would bring in a significant amount in revenue.
There are also plans to integrate staff as another cost cutting measure.
The city is looking into revenue generating plans and proposals in the state, city, and private sector to bring in more revenue.
Official figures for Mayor Freeman-Wilson’s financial plan were not available at press time Wednesday.