The Carmel City Council held the first of two budget workshops Sept. 10 at City Hall to review 2021 budgets for city departments.
Most proposed budgets have decreased from amounts approved for 2020, because 2020 had an additional pay period. The budget does not include a cost of living adjustment for the first time since 2010.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said most departments submitted budgets similar to those approved for 2020. He will formally present the full budget to the council at an October meeting.
“It’s a strong, solid budget,” Brainard said. “There’s a lot we don’t know that’s going to happen next year. We don’t know whether there will be conferences. We’ve never been through a pandemic before, so everything is new.”
The second budget workshop is set for 8 a.m. Sept. 15 at Carmel City Hall.
The following are highlights from department budgets presented Sept. 10.
Community relations and economic development
The 2021 budget for the Community Relations and Economic Development Dept. is down 1.33 percent, but some councilors questioned whether it could be lowered further.
The council approved an additional $75,000 in the 2020 budget to market Carmel nationally, but councilors Tony Green and Tim Hannon suggested that amount be removed for 2021.
“When the state is cutting back 15 percent but Carmel is continuing to spend what we normally spend, the council has got to take a step back and say, ‘What steps can we take today to be prudent so we’re not making draconian decisions 12 months from now,” Green said.
Department Director Nancy Heck said she’d like at least some of the $75,000 to remain, as it is used to pay consultants to help market the city for potential business relocations and that it must often happen quickly.
Councilor Sue Finkam said she supports a continued strong investment in economic development initiatives.
“I worry if we cut those dollars we’re going to miss opportunities,” she said.
The department plans to spend more in 2021 on technology to livestream government meetings on social media, a practice that began when City Hall was shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Human Resources Dept. proposed budget hasn’t changed much from the one approved for 2020, but Director Barb Lamb reported that the city’s medical fund has been reimbursed nearly $1.1 million from the federal government for COVID-19 related expenses, including weekly tests of many city employees. The city is eligible for up to $3.2 million in federal reimbursements to this point.
Lamb said her department has increased its focus on building a more diverse workforce in Carmel, with 22 percent of recent hires being people who are not white. That brings the total city non-white workforce to 6.2 percent.
“It’s happening without setting any (diversity) quotas or setting a number we’d like to reach. It’s happening because we’re looking more carefully,” Lamb said. “We’ve always wanted the best people for the jobs, but we’re doing a better job realizing the best people aren’t always the people that look exactly like us.”
Lamb said her department is working to coordinate a diversity training program.
The Controller’s Office was established Jan. 1 as a result of Carmel becoming a second class city, so Controller Ann Bingman’s budget presentation to the council was her first.
Bingman said her office looked at how the former Clerk-Treasurer’s Office, which managed city finances before the creation of the Controller’s Office, had handled budgeting and reallocated many of the funds.
Bingman, who was fired by the previous clerk-treasurer during the 2019 election cycle but soon rehired, said she has also spent her first year as controller working to establish the office’s image.
“I understand every day I have a powerful legacy to overcome, and I work very hard to make sure everyone understands there has been a sea change,” she said.
The office plans to spend $55,000 in 2021 for a program called Crow Debt Manager, a program that will allow the public to review detailed information about the city’s bonds online. The office intended to launch the service this year, but it was delayed because of the pandemic.
Carmel Police Dept.
The Carmel Police Dept. plans to hire two additional officers in 2021 in addition to the four or five school resource officers expected to be hired to work in Carmel Clay Schools. CCS will pay all costs for the SROs.
Police Chief Jim Barlow said theft is the most common crime in Carmel, with fraud seeing the largest increase in occurrence.