UPDATE: South Bend council passes budget

South Bend, Ind. After 18 meetings, South Bend’s common council passed a budget Wednesday night that includes funding for a controversial two-way streets proposal.

They voted 8-1 in favor of the budget, which appropriates $11.4 million for ‘smart streets.’

That package will allow the city to convert downtown from one-way to two-way streets. It also provides $200,000 for street lights throughout the city, at the council’s request.

“Downtown is going to benefit, and the neighborhoods are going to benefit, too,” said Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “And, it was important to have a budget that strikes that balance.”

Councilwoman Valerie Schey was the only member who voted against the budget. She proposed amending it to only fund phase one of the streets project in 2014. But, the motion didn’t have any support.

Council President Derek Dieter, who’s previously spoken out against the idea, says his mind changed after the administration answered several questions he had about the two-way streets.

“It was a good budget process,” he said. “The council weighs input we get from the citizens, input we get from the city administration and we make a decision. Everybody got to one spot where they were comfortable.”

Earlier in the week, Buttigieg agreed to set aside $350,000 from smart streets to fund permanent wells near the New Energy Ethanol Plant. Several people living nearby experienced severe flooding in their basements after the plant closed last year. The city’s paying to keep one pump on to prevent the water table from rising again, but council members Oliver Davis and Karen White told Buttigieg Monday they wanted a permanent solution.

After hearing concerns from council members and residents, Buttigieg also proposed restoring funding that was originally excluded from the budget for downtown police overtime patrols. He also added an additional $100,000 for neighborhood patrols.

“This is a finely crafted budget that goes well over the 50-yard line in working to ensure that numerous concerns brought to light by council are addressed by the administration’s proposal,” Buttigieg said during Wednesday’s meeting.

While the mayor received support for the two-way streets proposal, the council amended a salary ordinance that would have increased the maximum salaries for several department heads and direct reports. He requested raises that ranged from 7 percent to nearly 35 percent.

Instead, the council approved an ordinance 6-3 that will give most of those positions a flat raise of 7 percent. The director of water works, executive director of the Morris Performing Arts Center, ordinance violations bureau clerk, director of community investment, and park superintendent will all get larger, varying raises.

“A majority of the council members thought some of those raises were too much,” Dieter said. “A 7-percent raise is very good.”

Buttigieg says while the small raises for those positions will help with internal pay equity, the city still has a long way to go.

“It's still important that we move city salaries closer to the middle of the pack,” Buttigieg says. “But, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Tim Scott, Gavin Ferlic and Karen White voted against the amended salary ordinance.

And, while a proposal to merge the code enforcement and building departments was taken off the table earlier in the budget process after the council expressed little support, Buttigieg says he plans to take the issue up again soon.

“Business as usual is not an option,” he said. “Any of the areas where the council did hit the brakes, we’re going to continue to look at ways to get progress.”

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