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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Duke Bennett Talks Budget Woes

Mayor Bennett says he's excited to start the New Year off with a fresh start getting some new council members up to speed and then tackling the city's budget deficit.

On this week's installment of Ask The Mayor, Mayor Duke Bennett addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: First council meeting was last Thursday, what's on the agenda now for 2016?

Bennett: We're going to be talking about the budget in perspective of new revenue. We've been talking for years now, there's really no surprises. We have a new council that's seated several new members and so it's bringing them up to speed and laying out our options.

Hren: Let's break down some numbers, what's the deficit?

Bennett: We have a deficit in the general fund of about $6 million. We're going to carry over that deficit no matter what we do, but we have a balanced budget this year for the general fund. All funds total, we're in the positive, but we've got about six or seven funds in the 80 we have that have some stress and they're all the ones that get property tax funds.

Hren: So that's why the Umbaugh Report was issued? Why isn't this something the city council could do? Why hire a consultant?

Bennett: Well Umbaugh has been our financial consultant for twenty plus years, they do this for us on a regular basis. They're a partner with us if you will. Every few years, they do a financial analysis. We wanted to have updated data, new information and options available to us to address it.

Hren: You mentioned new revenue sources earlier, where do you go now?

Bennett: The options the council has full control over include any sewer rate increases, any trash fee or storm water fee, really fee related things. We've done some sewer rate increases, but that doesn't help our general fund, but we have to pay for projects as we move forward. Then there's some things the county council can do when it comes to public safety, local option income tax, property tax relief, food and beverage tax... so now we look at those things where the council and administration want to work together on.

We need to make up somewhere between three and five million dollars a year and we'll be fine. Pay off our deficits, build a cash balance, pay our expenses. Trash fee would take us to $2.5 million of that, we need another piece of revenue somewhere.

Hren: When you go through that list of taxes, taxpayers here may feel overwhelmed by the amount of money they all need to come up with.

Bennett: And they may and that's completely understandable. The thing they need to remember is, this year alone - well 2015, they saved $12 million that they previously paid to the city. So we've made sure we didn't increase the budget other than the sanitary side because we had to due to federal mandates... the other side is we've held the budget steady but we keep losing more money each year. We were estimated to only lose $7 million worst case scenario. Well, it's $12 million.

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