Mayor Bart Peterson’s throat was dry and his voice was a little hoarse as he addressed his constituency from the City-County Building last Tuesday, but his message was clear: The city must spend $85 million a year more on crime fighting and for paying off police and fire pensions.
What was less clear is how he intends to pay for it. But he hoped a recent Northside mugging would get the attention of state lawmakers, who are currently in session at the state capitol. To a partisan crowd of law enforcement officials, city workers and other supporters in City-County Council chambers, Peterson, a Democrat, unveiled his plan for aggressive crime fighting and prevention.
Speaking live on television and needing to stop several times to drink water to wet his dry throat, Peterson said the city “must wage a sustained, multifront war on crime and make the investments necessary to win it.”
The mayor’s plan calls for $50 million for adding some 137 police officers to the streets; hundreds of additional jail beds to keep criminals behind bars; for new courtrooms, prosecutors and public defenders; and for expanding the “use of technology proven elsewhere to significantly reduce crime.”
The bottom line, according to the mayor: “We must fight back against those who would disrupt the peace of our city, corrupt our youth and terrorize our seniors.”
A significant part of the plan is Peterson’s proposal to borrow $450 million to fully fund the city’s portion of the police officer and firefighter pension liability, and an additional $35 million a year to pay the debt. Prior to 1977, Indiana cities could put off funding police officer and firefighter pensions. That has left Indianapolis with funding those pre-1977 pensions from the city’s operating budget, thus reducing its budget options, according to city officials. (See the Cover Story “Ticking Time Bomb,” www.nuvo.net/articles/article_5885/.)
“We must free up our budget for a sustained war against crime by eliminating the albatross of our unfunded police and fire pension liability,” Peterson said. “These men and women went out onto the streets, day and night, were shot at, spat upon, saw the worst of human nature and bravely kept the peace for our benefit,” Peterson said in an emotional part of his 20-minute address. “They deserve our appreciation and their pensions.”
The mayor gave his remarks the same day his 48-member Community Crime Prevention Task Force released its report, which recommended, among other things, improving workforce opportunities for ex-offenders; establishing comprehensive programs for kids about to exit the foster care system; improving policing of public housing units; establishing alternatives to school suspensions and expulsions through in-school suspension programs; and expanding employment opportunities for at-risk youth.
“The task force recognizes that meaningful solutions must not only address the short-term need to reduce incidents of crime but also the social and economic conditions that make criminal activity more likely,” said the report, which is available online on the city’s Web site. “These recommendations are meant to begin addressing those conditions.” To cover the $85 million cost of his crime fighting initiative, Peterson said he will need help from state lawmakers. But he cautioned that “We need the state’s help — not a handout. We are simply asking for the authority to let us solve our own problems.”
Indianapolis Works. The mayor is asking for approval to merge the remaining eight township Fire Departments into the Indianapolis Fire Department, saving the city $15 million.
Hometown Matters. Peterson is also asking for legislative approval to raise local taxes other than property taxes, such as either a sales tax or income tax. “We must get property tax relief for the people of Indianapolis and Marion County. We need new revenue for the battle against crime and property taxes are not the way to go,” he said.
Pension legislation. Under the new plan, Indianapolis will borrow $450 million to remove the pension obligation from the operating budget, and $35 million a year to repay the loan. Otherwise, the mayor warns that the city will continue to have to make the choice “between funding our crime fighting efforts and paying the pensions of our retired public safety heroes,” he said.
State takeover for funding child welfare. “We don’t run the child welfare system. The state does. We just foot the bill,” Peterson said. He noted that in 2005, the governor and several Republican legislative leaders, including then-Speaker Brian Bosma, said the state should take over the funding. “If the state takes over just the growth in the [child welfare] fund from 2005 onward, our taxpayers will not only avoid future property tax increases but will receive an immediate property tax break of nearly $40 million a year.”