Richmond Common Council passes 2023 budget, warily looks toward 2025

2022-10-08 17:02:39 By : Mr. James Zheng

RICHMOND, Ind. — Richmond Common Council members voted 7-0 Monday night to pass the 2023 city budget, but they did so concerned about upcoming budgets.

Fully funding 2023's $58,099,798 budget requires $1,597,244 in American Rescue Plan Act money the federal government has disbursed that replaces municipalities' lost revenue because of COVID-19. ARPA money can again be utilized in 2024, but the potential problem comes in 2025 when ARPA money is no longer available.

"I'll vote to pass the budget, but I'm concerned its balanced with American Rescue Plan funds to the tune of $1.5 million," council member Larry Parker said. "In 2025, it could be impossible to balance."

He recommended council next year review the 2024 budget line by line to make sure it's sustainable into 2025.

Council member Ron Oler agreed that council should more closely scrutinize the next two years' budgets.

"I agree with Mr. Parker that it's a sad state of affairs that we have to use American Rescue Plan money to balance the budget, but most or all is overtime for first responders," said Oler, noting that Richmond Fire Department earlier Monday swore in five new members and Richmond Police Department swore in a new officer. "In 2025, we'll have to do something different."

Oler noted that not passing the budget would revert the city back to the 2022 budget that is $4,476,041 less than 2023's. It also would cost the city about $500,000 in funding it would not receive during 2023.

"I think it will be a very difficult time if we don't pass it," Oler said.

Council member Jeff Cappa agreed that the negatives of not passing the budget are too severe.

"We as a council need to work more diligently the next two years to make sure we provide services to our constituents and balance the budget," Cappa said.

Council member Bill Engle reiterated that the budget does come in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and ARPA is designed to assist municipalities with expenses. He said council should use more time to consider future budgets, but he also expressed confidence in Mayor Dave Snow and Controller Emily Palmer when they work on future budgets.

"I have faith in Mayor Snow and Emily that they'll work to make this work," he said.

Council also passed five other ordinances related to the budget. Those set compensation for elected officials, civilian employees, the fire department, the police department and the Richmond Sanitary District. Four of the votes were 7-0, but Cappa voted against the elected officials compensation because it included extra money for council members, who also serve as the Richmond Power & Light board.

The ordinance provides $6,995.95 for council members and $7,344,74 for the council president and $7,354.35 for RP&L board members, plus an extra $300 for the RP&L board chair.

After the meeting, Cappa said controlling the budget needs to start somewhere, even with a relatively minor amount. He doesn't think he's being asked to do extra work next year, so he doesn't think he deserves extra compensation.

Snow said the city is financially healthy and the budget is financially responsible to continue providing "top-notch services."

"We brought a funded budget to council," he said. "We put in a tremendous amount of work, and it's good to see that come to fruition and see the budget passed."

Snow said the city works to use the money it receives to benefit residents.

"I am passionate the city should receive the services and infrastructure it deserves," he said. "It's the community's money, and we continue spending it on what we need to provide a safe, clean and beautiful city for people to live, to work and to call home."

In the RP&L board meeting that followed Monday's council meeting, a resolution was unanimously approved that establishes criteria for cost of service studies should RP&L leave the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission's jurisdiction.

Voters face a question during the Nov. 8 general election about allowing RP&L to leave the IURC. The IURC regulates a utility's rates and charges, its ability to borrow money and its rules and policies. It provides some protection for consumers against rate changes.

During July, Richmond Common Council members approved putting the question about RP&L remaining under the IURC on the ballot. RP&L is one of seven municipally owned electric companies to remain under IURC jurisdiction since a 1988 law change required only investor-owned electric utilities remain with the IURC. All 38 electric cooperatives have also withdrawn from the IURC.

The criteria would include cost of service studies be performed no more than five years apart, a third-party consulting firm would complete the studies, all assistance programs will continue and rate adjustments would follow Indiana state law for customer protection.

RP&L's board also approved a new three-year contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1395. The contract provides for 5% raises in 2023, 4% raises in 2024 and 3% raises in 2025, and it adds Veterans Day to the list of paid holidays.

General Manager Tony Foster congratulated RP&L's participants in the Indiana Municipal Electric Association Lineman Rodeo in Lawrenceburg.

Mason Sullenbarger won two of the four competitions for apprenticeships, taking first place in pole top rescue and copper lift, while Matt Baker took second place in pole top rescue. As a team, RP&L's linemen captured second place in the pole top rescue and transformer change out competitions.

Foster also highlighted that this is Public Power Week. The Customer Service Office at 44 S. Eighth St. has customer giveaways to celebrate the week.