Taxes, salaries debated as Carmel City Council approves 2016 budget

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The Carmel City Council approved a $125 million budget for 2016 after hearing concerns expressed by some about increased salaries and rising taxes.

The total budget is $125,258,011 with a general fund budget of $83,751,935. The property tax rate will be set at 71.43 cents per $100 of assessed value, an increase from the current rate of 70.07 cents.

City Council President Rick Sharp balked at the tax increase, voting against the city’s budget, along with City Councilor Eric Seidensticker. The budget passed 5-2.

“We had quite a bit of discussion in April and May about the finances of this city,” Sharp said. “I contended throughout that we needed to be more fiscally prudent, and that if we did not do so we would find that we would need to increase rates and taxes and we are now proposing to do both … As I said during the campaign, Carmel has no more capacity other than finding a new revenue stream. I am completely opposed to raising these taxes.”

City Councilor Luci Snyder said she voted for the budget partly because she lost her election and the mayor won reelection. She said she generally favors lower taxes and sees an increase in assessed value along with an increased rate as a “double whammy” on taxpayers, but she said her biggest concern is that the budget is balanced.

“It’s not my budget. I will not be here next year,” she said. “I have argued vociferously about budgets for years. I want to know if you plan to spend a certain amount of money, how much revenue do you have coming in? If you are not spending more than your income, I don’t have a problem with it. If you are, I have a problem with it.”

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard defended the increase, saying it was actually less than taxes were in 2013 for many households, and, because of property tax caps, homes worth more than $345,000 wouldn’t be affected at all. He said for a home around $200,000 in value the tax increase should mean about $60 each year.

Some of the budget approvals were separated into other ordinances, such as salaries, which are often raised by around 3 percent for cost-of-living.

Seidensticker raised questioned about two particular salary increases. City Attorney Doug Haney saw his salary increase from $4,670.38 for every two weeks to $5,612.23 for every two weeks or around 20 percent and Nancy Heck, director of community relations and economic development, saw her salary increase from $4,039.04 every two weeks to $4,485.38 every two weeks or around an 11 percent increase.

“I don’t think there’s any justification for these increases,” Seidensticker said. “I have to tell you they don’t make sense.”

Brainard said Haney’s salary increase is because he was so out of line with the market that it would be hard to hire another city attorney at the salary if he were to leave his job. He said an attorney of Haney’s experience can make $300,000 a year and he would be making about half that. Brainard said Heck’s salary increase is due to her increased responsibility. She’s no longer just in charge of media and community relations, but she’s added economic development to her title.

Councilor Carol Schleif said she thinks the city attorney’s salary is a bargain compared to private practice attorneys.

“In my experience hiring lawyers, I would expect to pay six times that amount in the private sector,” she said. “I think we have a bargain going here and I would not like to see our city attorney leave because he can make more money elsewhere.”

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