Social service agencies have to wait two more weeks to find out about city cuts

Social service agencies throughout Huntington will have to wait another couple of weeks to find out if large chunks of their 2010 budgets will be swallowed up by the city's financial woes.

No matter what happens to those budgets in 2010, however, 2011 is likely to be even worse - with at least one member of the Huntington Common Council warning that the city is likely to cut out all funding for those agencies.

City administrators and elected officials are scouring all parts of the city budget, looking for cuts that can be made to make up for property tax revenue that was expected but not received. That shortfall is now estimated at $1.2 million for 2009 and includes both tax payments lowered on appeal and the 13 percent of taxpayers who just didn't pay their bills, says Huntington Clerk-Treasurer Christi Scher.

Most recently, a portion of the city budget set aside for "community affairs" has come under scrutiny. That portion of the budget includes donations the city makes to such organizations as the Erie Band, Huntington County Council on Aging, the Boys & Girls Club of Huntington County and more.

Mayor Steve Updike says those donations were initially targeted for elimination but were later placed back in the budget, with just a five percent reduction in the amount of the donation.

With rumors flying about the status of those cuts, Scher says, those agencies want to know as soon as possible what kind of funding they can expect.

The consensus during the Huntington Common Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 29, was that any decision could wait until the council's next meeting on Jan. 12.
"We're kind of in limbo as to what's going on right now," Councilman Jason Fields says.

"We don't have to make a decision yet," Councilman Brooks Fetters adds. But the agencies need to know, he says, that "going into 2011, you don't need to expect anything from the city."

The total of the community affairs budget stands at $162,325 for 2010. Two items in that category - $35,000 for Huntington County Emergency Manage-ment/Civil Defense and $68,000 for the Huntington County Humane Society - are for contracts the city has entered into, and can't be dropped.

The money allocated to the other agencies, however, is considered to be donations, Updike says, and can be cut or eliminated.

Those agencies, and the amount the city had initially allocated for them in 2010, are:

• Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, $3,200.
• Huntington County Chamber of Commerce, $5,000.
• Hoosier Heartland Highway, $4,000.
• Huntington County Council of Veterans, $1,200.
• Huntington County Veterans Service Office, $625.
• Huntington Erie Band, $1,000.
• Huntington County Council on Aging, $15,000.
• Youth Services Bureau of Huntington County, $15,000.
• Boys and Girls Club of Huntington County, $7,500.
• McKenzie's Hope, $1,800.
• July 4 fireworks, $5,000.

In other business during the Dec. 29 meeting:

• At the request of Mark Wickersham, director of Huntington County United Economic Development, the council agreed to waive filing fees paid by companies requesting tax abatements for another year.

The fees were also waived this year, Wickersham noted, and the 17 companies who filed for tax abatements in 2009 were relieved of paying $6,550 in filing fees.
Of the nine companies who worked with HCUED, Wickersham says, investment totaled $34 million and new job commitments stood at 454.

Wickersham said the waiver should be re-evaluated in December 2010 or when the unemployment rate drops below double digits.

The request passed 6-1, with Steve McIntyre casting the lone no vote.

• Scher presented a resolution that would transfer $76,142.21 from the Cumulative Capital Improvement Fund to the general fund, effectively suspending the city's 50/50 sidewalk replacement program for 2010.

In the past, the city has paid 50 percent of the cost of replacing a residential sidewalk, with the homeowner paying the other half.

Councilman Jason Fields said he would prefer to wait and see if that money is required in the general fund.