The Westfield City Council and city staff recently heard feedback from residents regarding the 2020 budget.
At its Sept. 23 meeting, the council held a hearing for public input on the proposed $42.5 million operating budget, highlights of which include the potential hiring of 10 new police officers, three new firefighters, four new hires in the department of public works and raises for non-elected city staff.
When the budget was introduced at the council’s Sept. 9 meeting, Tammy Havard, a financial strategist for the city, said expenses were up from last year’s budget by approximately $3.5 million.
During the Sept. 23 meeting, Marla Ailor, a resident of Westfield Washington Township but not of the City of Westfield, chose to speak during the public hearing, but before making her comments, she was addressed by Mayor Andy Cook.
“Ms. Ailor, before you begin, shouldn’t you be directing your budget concerns to the county council?” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, you are not a resident of the City of Westfield, and therefor your taxes don’t go here. I’m sure our council would be glad to listen to your concerns, but I would like to note that you are not a resident of the City of Westfield, am I correct?”
Ailor agreed, but justified the need for her concerns with the budget to be communicated.
“I am acutely aware that some of you may dismiss what I have to say because I don’t live within the city limits,” she said. “As a resident of the township and this county, whose household pays (county option income tax, local income tax) and food and beverage tax, I most certainly feel I have the right and personal obligation to comment on the city’s proposed budget. Specifically, I have concerns with the food and beverage tax being removed from the general fund and moved to a new fund, which will pay for Colts Camp. Are we supposed to believe that an increase in sales for a period of three weeks out of the year can solely be attributed to people attending Colts Camp?
“It seems far more likely that the people of this community, including myself, who spend their money 52 weeks a year at our local (establishments) are the ones that should be rewarded for the accumulation of the tax, so whether that is funding road improvements or purchasing tangible items for their safety, it seems unbelievable that it would be used for anything other than the good of the very people you collected it from.”
Linda Naas, a resident representing the 161st Street Neighbors Group, asked the council for a comprehensive list of city projects, along with a comparison to the 2019 budget.
“As people look at (the budget) this year, they’re making the same comment they made for the past several,” Naas said. “There is very little information given to the public about this budget to consider what our comments and concerns are. Even with tax caps and an even tax rate, taxpayers will have an increase in taxes due to an increase in the (assessed value of their homes).”
Naas echoed Ailor’s comments regarding revenues from the food and beverage tax.
“Revenues should not be going to Grand Park or Colts Camp,” she said. “Revenues were half of this or more before Colts Camp and before Grand Park event opened. We’re going to spend $120,000 for an asphalt pad for this camp, over $400,000 for lodging, $341,000 for bleachers, plus hundreds of thousands more for a $53,000 payment from the Colts annually, in addition to the already immeasurable cost for PR.
“This really needs a (return on investment) assessment. Everything is being done to draw people to Westfield, but is there a limit or a point that makes sense? What is the reality of these dreams (versus) the cost to the residents?”