Council postpones decision on building and code enforcement merger

In a surprise move, the South Bend Common Council voted to table indefinitely an amendment required to merge the city's building and code enforcement departments Monday night.

Council member Henry Davis Jr. made the motion, which passed 5-4.

He says the council has some reservations about the proposal. Earlier this month, City Controller Mark Neal presented a combined budget for both departments to the council, assuming the merger would go through. But, no backup budget was presented for if the idea fails.

"It was like a one-stop shop deal," he said. "We had to approve what they were giving us and we had no way of finding out any contingency plan or alternative on the part of the mayor."

Under state law, the council must pass an amendment to city code in order for the departments to merge. If that doesn't happen, the budget Neal presented can't be implemented.

Neal says combining the departments would save the city about $400,000. But, it would also cost eight city workers their jobs.

While the amendment is tabled indefinitely, the council's attorney says it could come back up for a vote.

"In order for it to get back on the full council agenda, five council members would have to vote," Cathy Cekanski Farrand. "It would be put under unfinished business. But, another vote of the council would be required."

But, Davis Jr. says he doesn't think the council will take the measure back up before the end of the year, which would jeopardize the merger.

Buttigieg says he'll try to work with council members to find a compromise. He wants them to take an up-or-down vote on the proposal.

"Ordinarily when the council members have a concern, they come to me and we talk about it," he said. "So, I was taken by surprise. And, I'm not sure why they decided to go that way. I do think it's best for our proposals to be debated in public."

There are several council members who do support the merger. They say it would be a good move financially for the city.

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