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Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett

Staring at Millions in Shortfalls, Terre Haute Beings 2010 Budget Planning Early

Terre Haute city officials have already started writing their budget for 2010.

That’s two months ahead of schedule, according to Mayor Duke Bennett.

The city recently found out it needs to cut an additional $500,000 on top of the original $3.2 million it expected to slash in order to break even.

Bennett says he’s unsure how possible incoming funds from the federal stimulus package could help with next year’s budget.

“Most of the things we’ll get stimulus money for will be one time projects. It will help a little bit, but it’s not going to have much of an impact on next year’s budget. What we’re doing is, we might be able to do some things we weren’t going to be able to do for three or four or five years down the road,” Bennett said.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions in the public. Because they think they’re just going to give mayors big bags of money and say, ‘Here, go stimulate your local economy, and it’s not anything like that at all.”

Bennett says stimulus funds package could help offset the cost of annual purchases like new transit buses and long-term projects, such as road construction.

Updated estimates from the state’s Legislative Services Agency show property tax revenues dropped in Terre Haute more than expected to due caps put in place by last year’s General Assembly.

In addition to upcoming budget cuts for 2010, the city also reduced its 2009 budget by more than $1.5 million. While he says the city wants to avoid layoffs, there might be no way to avoid them.

Bennett also says city tax collection was down two percent last year.

Glut of Stimulus Requests Dims Hopes of Indiana Mayors

City officials around Indiana are scrambling to apply for funds from the federal stimulus package. With deadlines looming, some mayors and department heads are devoting significant time angling for ways to secure the billions of dollars in funds set aside for municipal projects.

But still months away from receiving the money, some are beginning to question how effective it will be

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett says he’s not optimistic about how the stimulus will affect his city.

“You know, I think that’s a hard one to answer. My gut tells me: not a ton,” he said.

Bennett says the city may not even be able to afford to apply for some of the money.

“With some of these [grants] we’re finding out now is: you have to have matching funds for different areas. Some of them, not all of them. We may not even be able to come up with those matching funds,” Bennett said. “We may decide that we may not apply for this particular grant because we don’t have the funds.”

Dozens of proposed Terre Haute city projects qualify for stimulus money waiting to be allocated, but Bennett says that doesn’t promise anything.

As part of the package President Barack Obama signed into law last month, the city will receive more money than usual for streets and roads, transit, housing and urban development and safety.

“But everything else is competitive grants. We’re trying to make sure we don’t miss anything here. And that we’re doing everything we need to do to get every piece of funding that we feel should come to Terre Haute,” Bennett said. “My guess is that we still won’t know things for weeks, maybe a couple months. But as soon as it comes available to us, we will apply for it and see what happens.”

Bennett says he met with Indiana’s congressional delegation a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C. There he learned how to best position the city to possibly receive stimulus dollars. But he says it’s anything by a sure thing.

“The question is: who decides? How do you look at an application when everybody’s application looks the same, other than whatever verbiage you can add to it? Who makes the decision who gets funded and who doesn’t? Nobody can seem to answer that question right now,” he said.

Bennett made his comments on WFIU’s “Ask the Mayor” program.

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