The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, October 27, 2021 1:00 am

Council sends message with cuts

$290 million budget OK'd; Public Works' pay takes hit

DEVAN FILCHAK | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne City Council used most of the $444,200 it cut from the city's 2022 budget Tuesday to send a message to two departments to do better.

The council reviewed a list of about 40 proposed cuts members submitted last week. Seventeen were withdrawn before the meeting by Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, who said he had changed his mind after talking with the appropriate city officials.

The list added up to more than $30 million before the 3.5-hour meeting, during which the cuts were whittled down to less than $445,000.

The council approved a budget for about $290 million.

The deepest cut approved Tuesday was a $150,000 reduction to the Public Works Division's salary and benefit line item. Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, said the cut was intended to hurt the Solid Waste Department, which falls under Public Works, because the council cannot make cuts to Solid Waste directly.

Ensley suggested the cut because the city has had issues with timely trash collection by Red River Waste Solutions since its contract started in 2018. Fort Wayne residents had to sacrifice for the interests of the contractor, Ensley said, such as the city not fining Red River for noncompliance with missed trash collections to the appropriate extent.

“Here we are, four years later, and not only is the contractor bankrupt, but the Solid Waste Fund is bankrupt,” Ensley said. “We have deferred for too long.”

Councilwoman Sharon Tucker also suggested the cut because Matt Gratz, the Solid Waste director, gave a “flat-out dishonest answer” at last week's meeting when he was asked if he knew Red River was in any financial trouble. Tucker, who is on the Solid Waste advisory board, said she knew from personal conversations with leadership that Red River wasn't being fined to the highest extent because the company was already having troubles covering payroll.

Shan Gunawardena, director of Public Works, said the $150,000 cut would affect several departments beyond Solid Waste. Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, D-at large, asked Gunawardena to clarify how many positions the $150,000 would affect.

When Gunawardena confirmed it would affect 2.5 positions, Chambers pointed out that it would not actually affect all of the several departments he had mentioned.

The cut was approved with a 6-3 vote with councilmen Tom Didier, R-3rd, Tom Freistroffer, R-at large, and Geoff Paddock, D-5th, opposing it.

The City Council also approved cutting the city's portion of the $140,000 salary for the Department of Planning Services' director, which is currently a vacant position.

The department serves the county and the city, but Jehl said it has regularly neglected the city and the work Nancy Townsend of Community Development Division is leading.

Ensley said he favors restoring the cut as soon as Townsend endorses the new hire for Planning Services director, and Jehl agreed.

Paddock, Freistroffer and Chambers voted in opposition of the cut that passed with a 6-3 vote.

Jehl and Ensley proposed not including about $30 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds until there is a clear plan in place. They withdrew the cuts after Garry Morr, city controller, promised he would bring large requests to the council for approval.

The final 2022 city budget was approved by the council at the end of the meeting, which meets the state statute that requires budgets to be approved by Oct. 31. The council's Nov. 2 meeting was canceled so it will meet next at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9.

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