By David Slone
WARSAW – Mayor Joe Thallemer opened the city departments’ 2023 budget presentations Monday night, Aug. 1, by noting inflation is going to play a part In city finances going forward.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re looking at inflation that is already hitting us in wages and utilities, supply costs, construction costs, energy costs, everything,” he said. “It’s going to present a challenging year for us.”
He told the Common Council that they need to expect that inflation to continue and they don’t know how far it will go. The city has to keep its wages up to be competitive, and the proposal is for city employees to receive a 4% increase.
“For about the past six, seven years, we’ve been very fortunate that growth and investment in our community has helped offset the increase in the tax rate, that’s worked in our favor. But it’s because of what we’ve offered this community, the services we provide, folks want to come to our community, invest in our community, work in our community. We’ve got to take that responsibility to continue to provide those services in the face of this inflation,” he said.
Right now, Thallemer said the city’s tax rate is lower than what it was in 2016. “I don’t know how it’s going to go this year,” he said, but the Council has “done a great job” in promoting growth in the community and keeping the city’s budgets as lean as they can be while still providing services. “And, certainly, that’s what we’re going to strive to continue to do.”
He said the city was still waiting to get its assessed valuation numbers back to see where its tax base is.
“We’ve got a lot of the other numbers. We’ve got our growth quotient back from the state. The state is going to let us grow 5% this year, so certainly that will help us,” Thallemer said.
Departments presented Monday night can not be increased from this point out, and included Building and Planning, Community Economic and Development, Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory, police and the street departments.
City Planner Justin Taylor presented his sole budget for the Building and Planning Department. He noted it included the proposed 4% increase for employee salaries and a 12% increase for health insurance as all departments were directed to do.
His total proposed budget increased 11% from $837,457 in 2022 to $939,658 in 2023, also in part due to rising costs.
Community Economic and Development Director Jeremy Skinner presented seven budgets for his department.
“All of the budgets I have, except for Redevelopment General, which is a tax-supported budget, are all increment budgets, so those increments are collected within those legal boundaries of that district. The Technology Park has a legal boundary of the district, and anything within that district we collect income tax and sales tax off,” Skinner said.
There is a cap on the fund for those taxes of up to $5 million. Once the $5 million cap is hit, it starts back to a base of zero and then $150,000 a year can be collected after that for ongoing operations of the Technology Park.
The 2023 budget for the Warsaw Technology Park is $1.217 million. The projects currently being worked on in the Technology Park are the third phase of CRs 300N and 200W, and the Warsaw Technology Hub.
Skinner said, to date, “We’ve put about $5 million of infrastructure in the ground in combination of Technology Park funds and the Northern TIF District. That $5 million that we put in the ground has generated about $50 million in assessed valuation so far. A pretty good investment and we’ve still got plenty of opportunities left.”
The Redevelopment General budget has $315,000 budgeted for it in 2023, the same as 2022. The Redevelopment Allocation has $373,500 budgeted for it in 2023; $723,500 was spent out of it in 2022.
The Northern and Southern Residential TIFs were created at the end of 2019, Skinner said, and funds from them were first received in 2021. These are primarily for developing residential housing opportunities, Skinner said. For the Northern Residential TIF, $170,000 is budgeted for 2023; and $100,000 is budgeted for the Southern Residential TIF for 2023.
On the Northern TIF District, Skinner said it’s been one of the city’s more successful TIF districts and it continues to create development opportunities as it continues to grow.
“So over the last five to six years, we’ve really kind of tackled a project per year in cash, so that’s been the way we’ve been operating rather than try to bond for this infrastructure. We’ve been fortunate enough to continue to pay for the bonds that we have and at the same time have enough money to tackle a big project every year,” Skinner explained.
This year, the big project is the northern lift station and next year, “it could be a number of projects on the list,” he said, depending on what the Redevelopment Commission chooses to move forward on.
The budget for 2022 totaled $3,874,098, while the budget for 2023 is proposed at $3,881,090.
Skinner’s last budget he presented was for the Winona Interurban TIF. Its 2023 budget is proposed at $50,000, double 2022’s at $25,000. He said they have a lot of potential projects they’re working on in the district, which includes the Marketplace of Warsaw shopping center that is being redeveloped.
Garrett Holderman, who became the Warsaw fire chief earlier this year, presented his budget to the Common Council. He actually presented four budgets.
In presenting his budgets, one of the things he talked about was the renting of space behind City Hall for fire territory administration. Along with budgeting $3,000 for utilities for the rental space in 2023, the line item for rentals was increased from $3,300 in 2022 to $15,600 in 2023.
“The percentage is a little scary. It’s up 372%. The only reason is because we’re adding $12,000 for rent to rent the office space behind City Hall here,” Holderman said.
Thallemer said on the rental space, there certainly was a need to get the fire territory administration in their own domain because Station No. 2 is “pretty busy” and it’s hard to get work done down there administratively.
The Fire Territory Operating Fund was proposed at $5,707,912 for 2023, up 11.04% from $5,140,341 in 2022. No additional firefighters are proposed for 2023. A portion of the increase in the budget is due to inflation and projected fuel price increases.
Under the Fire Territory Equipment Replacement Fund, Holderman budgeted $100,000 each for Stations No. 1 and 2 structural repairs and remodels, though he said that doesn’t mean they’re going to use it. However, “we have been getting a couple bids and $100,000 isn’t going a long ways right now.”
The buildings were built in the 1980s and are mostly the original material, but he said they’ll do what they can to maintain the buildings.
On the station repairs, Thallemer said they’re needed as the buildings are just “limping along” and that $200,000 in the budget needs to be in there.
Also, $861,329 is budgeted for 2023 for a Station No. 1 new pumper. By statute, the fund only allows for the purchase of vehicles, equipment replacement or acquisition of property and land and nothing else, Holderman said.
The fire pension fund budget is mostly dictated by the state and is $265,298 for 2023.
The last budget Holderman presented was the Hazardous Material Response Fund, which is a budget based on when the fire territory responds to hazardous material and can bill for that service. The proposed budget for 2023 is $4,200, including $1,200 for oil absorbent and $3,000 for decontamination equipment.
Warsaw Police Chief Scott Whitaker presented four budgets.
The police general budget for 2023 is proposed at $6,377,458, an 8% increase over the 2022 budget of $5,905,130. Whitaker said the largest expense in the budget was going to be personal services.
Thallemer asked him to talk now about where the WPD stands now regarding having a full bevy of officers, compared to being down last year.
Whitaker said they had a lot of interest from experienced law enforcement officers from across the state and locally, as well as from new hires in general.
“We still have those expressing interest and feel very comfortable we’re going to have a full staff,” he said.
Last year at about this time, WPD had 35 officers with one or two planning to leave. Now, he said, they’re going to be 38 here shortly with a couple of certified officers currently in the process of being hired.
“We feel very comfortable we’re going to be at least at 40 and we expect to be at 42 by the end of the year,” Whitaker stated.
Three officers currently are at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, graduating in August, and two other officers maybe going to the next class.
Whitaker said WPD just attracted a highly-certified officer with 14 years of experience and that announcement will be made at the next Board of Works meeting. He was very excited about that officer coming on board.
Other budgets Whitaker presented were the law continuing education fund, $29,000; police pension fund, $379,245; and Police Forfeiture Fund, $11,000.
Street Superintendent Dustin Dillon presented his five budgets last. There were a couple 50% increases due to the expected increase in fuel and engineering fees.
His budgets included: Street General Fund, $6,340,645 for 2023, a 13.43% increase over 2022’s budget; Motor Vehicle Highway, $300,000 for 2023, a 14.29% decrease over 2022’s $350,000; Local Roads and Streets, $350,000 for 2023, the same as 2022; MVH Restricted, $300,000 for 2023, down 14.29% over 2022’s $350,000; and Wheel Tax, $600,000, a 20% increase over 2022’s $500,000.