Elkhart Mayor's budget passes, vote along party lines - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Elkhart Mayor's budget passes, vote along party lines

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Contention at the Elkhart Council meeting Monday as the Council took up the Mayor's budget and salary ordinance.

The $54,049,800 budget is $2 million more than last year's and passed by a 5-4 vote along party lines.

The meeting was standing room only, with many people there to discuss five new positions for the Lerner Theater.

Before Elkhart's Council meeting began, there was already contention in the air about funding five new positions at the Lerner Theatre using TIF dollars. Some councilmembers say, that's illegal.

After getting another opinion from the State Board of Accounts, Mayor Dick Moore decided not to use the funds for those positions.

"Having taken the oath that I did upon coming Mayor, I cannot override their determination. I'm not willing to take the chance during the next audit, they will find us in violation of Indiana code," says Moore

The decision came as good news to councilmembers who said they couldn't vote for anything they say is illegal.

"I appreciate the willingness of the administration, the Mayor in moving away from this highly questionable area," says Councilman David Henke.

Councilwoman Mary Olson says, "We have to do everything legal so I thank the Mayor."

Instead, the Mayor says he'll come to the council after the start of the year to find a new way to fund the positions.

Dozens of people packed council chamber to express the need for the new staff at the Lerner, saying it's the catalyst for the SoMa or "Supporting our Main Assets" initiative which works to boost the downtown.

"Really does recognize and invest in all of the assets we have downtown," says Mike Huber with Downtown Elkhart, Inc.

Dallas Bergl who is President of INOVA Federal Credit Union in downtown Elkhart says, "I do not want to see my employees leave Elkhart County and go over to St. Joe County or Michigan to live and I want them to play here as well."

But not everyone was excited to get behind the Mayor's budget. Some constituents spoke saying the city should have other priorities like providing tax relief, instead of putting more money towards employee salaries.

"We're annexing millions of dollars worth of tax dollars and all we're doing is building government," says Elkhart resident Michele Korach.

The council gave the green light to a 2% across-the-board raise for city employees.

About half of the extra $2 million dollars in this year's budget comes from an increase in salaries and increasing health insurance costs.    

Councilman David Henke who voted against the Mayor's budget says the people of Elkhart are basically getting the same thing as last year, except for an extra $2 million in labor costs.

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