Peru, IN – The closing minutes of yesterday’s Peru City Council meeting became contentious as Councilman Blane C. Holland read a statement and asked questions to Mayor Greer regarding the recent news of a budget shortfall that is resulting in the reduction of one police officer and one firefighter.
Holland’s statement read: “Through local media reports and social media, we have become aware of a budget issue that appears to have led to a reduction in force of both the Police Department and the Peru Fire Department by one person each. The budget we approved, was in part, based on the number of people each department would have. It was our understanding that all officers would receive a pay increase. We did not intend for this raise to come at the expense of manpower. By reducing their numbers, we have fundamentally changed the budget we agreed to. So, you have done this unilaterally and without consulting with us and I do not understand why there was a feeling this concealment in this situation from the council did not keep us informed. To the Peru Police Department and the Peru Fire Department, I apologize for the situation we find ourselves in right now. It was never our intention to pass a raise that the budget can’t accommodate or reduce your force to provide it. I hope after today’s meeting, we have a better understanding and idea of what has happened and how we can move forward with a plan that is financially sustainable for future years to come. And so, I would like there to be an explanation, if we can, of what exactly happened and why there needed to be some statements provided for social media.”
Mayor Greer responded to Councilman Holland by saying “So you’re saying you don’t understand what happened after the multiple conversations we’ve had about what happened.”
Council President Kurt Krauskopf then stated, “I haven’t heard anything about it, so.”
Mayor Greed continued “It’s a shock considering the conversations we have had recently and now this is what you are saying in public. Because that is a 100 percent 180 that you are turning right now.”
Holland then asked if the Mayor if he “Could you address exactly what the error is?”
Mayor Greer agreed and stated that he had provided statements to Peru Indiana Today and that the information had also appeared in the Kokomo Tribune about the budget problem. He also stated that Councilmen Holland and Gustin had both come to his office to talk about it. He then asked, “Which part are you fuzzy on?”
Holland then asked Councilman Gustin if there was a part they wanted the rest of the council informed of. Gustin replied that “Gabe said he was going to let everybody know.”
Holland continued “And Kurt, didn’t you just not inform us that you did not know what the situation is?”
Mayor Greer than stated “Is the point that I didn’t contact Kurt and Terry and Phyllis and Jan, is that the point you’re making?”
Holland replied, “The question is simply what exactly was the error, what was the FOP’s statement, what was the article that was given in the paper, and why was the council not informed of the issue?”
Mayor Greer than asked, “What part are you saying the Council wasn’t informed on?”
Councilman Krauskopf then stated, “Basically all of it. I didn’t know we were short on the budget, I didn’t know we were letting an officer go from each department.”
Mayor Greer then stated, “We’re not letting an officer go from each department. We’re not hiring positions.”
Krauskopf stated, “So we're having a reduction in force by not replacing someone who is retiring.”
“Right,” said Greer. “Keep in mind to we haven’t been at full force since I’ve been here except for sporadically between retirements, between the amount of officers that left in the last administration. We were down six officers in the police department at one point. During our time in the fire department, I don’t know how often it’s been up to thirty in the three years I’ve been in office. I think through retirement and training, we had one officer who was deployed, so we were down one officer while he was deployed. So, the hyperbole of us being understaffed is purely political. I mean it is an election year. That’s the pressure there because the idea that we are understaffed or anything but a simple fix is going on is a lie. Blane the two times I’ve had conversations with you, one on the phone and one in person, we went through it and you said okay, yeah that makes perfect sense and I think what we are doing is right. And that is not what you are saying here tonight.”
Councilman Gustin then asked if the officers agree to the resolution and Mayor Greer responded that the chiefs did.
Mayor Greer went on to say that he had spoken with some of the officers who had offered suggestions on other ways to fill the budget gap, but he hasn’t heard anything from any of the officers where they disagree with this direction the city is taking.
Councilman Gustin then asked, “So we’re ok financially at this point?”
“The way that this worked is that we changed the longevity pay,” said Mayor Greer. “Longevity is ½ percent increase to your base pay every year. So what was proposed was lets do a matrix where instead of having a linear increase to base wages over the time, you start out lower and then it grows and it kind of has a curve to it to where when you get to the twenty year mark your pay increase instead of being around $5,000 it’s $10,000 on your base pay. Getting to $10,000 at your twenty-year mark affects your retirement. The state looks at what an officer is making at twenty years to decide what their retirement is. So, this not only is a benefit to the people working now, it’s a better retirement package. The increase and the pay to the retirement affected the state. So that’s an extra benefit we are able to give our employees that the state is paying for. So that is the other incentive to wanting to do it in this way because it gives them more money but it’s not coming directly from the city. Because the state is picking up the extra pension. So the part that was missed by myself was that when you’re doing the pension payments to each individual officer, when we changed it to the matrix, we said ok, we’re going to do this where it doesn’t go linear, it goes in this (indicating a curve) fashion so the guys in the first seven years of service aren’t making as much as what they would in the old longevity package so even the offices that are making less in the matrix because they are under that seven-year mark, we’re paying more in the pension. Because when we pay them today, we’re not paying matched to what they make today, we’re paying matched to what they will make at year twenty. So that was the piece that I missed.”
Greer continued “So I went back to the chiefs and said we can do one of three things, reduce the matrix so that basically a 30 percent reduction in the benefits of the matrix. We could also prolong the period of time you wouldn’t start seeing an increase in wages until year twelve. And I said I don’t think anybody really wants that, and they agreed nobody wants that. We can go back to the old longevity of ½ percent increase in raises instead of the curve and we talked about even doing something additional too with that to not just go back to that but maybe a ½ percent increase on top of that. Or they could not fill one of the vacancies from attrition. So, when we looked at all options, some officers I talked with said well we could pay for this by not getting this equipment of that equipment and I said that fixes it for one year. You’ll have to go without that equipment every year going forward in perpetuity. That’s not a fix because eventually you’re going to need equipment and it’s going to become unsafe not to have that equipment. The only fix is in personnel costs. So, we either go back to the old system or we don’t fill one of the positions.”
Greer continued by stating that the only person in each department that can tell you if they can go without the filling the position is the chiefs because they are the ones doing the scheduling. He continued by saying that just because money is appropriated does not mean it has to be spent.
Councilman Gustoin then stated “I think this idea is a good one because we don’t pay our people enough, we can’t, we don’t have that kind of money. I just wish that we would have been informed at the beginning because we okayed a budget and we didn’t know that was part of it. Neither did you at the point.”
Mayor Greer stated that if the council wants to add money to the budget in the future to add the position back, they can always do that.
Councilman Holland then asked if the city has been “overstaffing for several years” in the PPD and the PFD.
“To me, the concern is the public safety issue,” said Councilman Holland. “If the chiefs had came in their budget and said we need this number of people to provide safety for the community for these shifts and to fill these things and for peoples time off and all of this…”
“Yeah that’s kind of a strawman kind of argument because it’s not a matter of are you overstaffed or understaffed it’s a matter of how much extra work do they take on, how much do they get called in and how much they are able to call off, those sorts of issues,” said Greer “So it’s not as black and white as these positions are staffed or not staffed, you either need them or don’t need them.”
“I think it's disingenuous to say we were overstaffed or now we’re going to be understaffed. It’s not as simple as being on one of those two camps,” said Mayor Greer.
“My only concern here, and this is between you and me, is I wish I would have known about this when you found out about it,” said Councilman Gustin. “According to the attorney for the State Board of Accounts, no money can be spent without our approval, when you ran into this, I wish you would have told me, because I was blindsided by this, I learned about it through the grapevine and I don’t want to learn about things through the grapevine. So, when stuff happens like this you need to tell us.”
Councilman Krauskopf then stated “I’m not re-running for office this year, so this has nothing to do with politics. Transparency is what you ran on three years ago, open transparency out of the Mayor’s office and I didn’t see it this time. I don’t see it at all, and you hammered your opponent last time on that and here we are right back to it.”
“I have been more transparent than anybody else has ever been,” said Mayor Greer. “Anybody can come up and ask for any piece of the budget. When I came on, I did not know, coming from the City Council, serving on it for four years, I did not know any account balances of any fund and we have given those to you guys.”
“I don’t care about account balances,” said Krauskopf. “I’m talking about a screwed up budget that we had to not replace officers and it would have been nice that when you found the mistake on the way the budget was prepared, that we approved, that you would have told us. I don’t care whether it’s $10,000 in an account or $1.00 in an account, it would have been nice and courteous for you to tell us this is what we’re going to have to do.”
In other business, the City Council
- Observed a moment of silence for Councilwoman Phyllis Torrence who passed away after many years of service to the City of Peru as a member of the Council.
- Approved Ordinance 1, 2019 An ordinance for additional appropriations.
- Approved Resolution 3, 2019 to establish the rate tracking factor for the City of Peru Municipal Water Utility
- Approved Resolution 4, 2019 to establish rate tracking factor for the City of Peru Municipal Electric Utility.