In its first meeting of the year, the Carmel City Council — complete with several new councilors that ran on the same slate during last year’s election — immediately passed several new ordinances.
New councilors Bruce Kimball, Laura Campbell and Jeff Worrell were also endorsed by Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and replace former councilors Rick Sharp, Luci Snyder and Eric Seidensticker, all of whom often disagreed with Brainard on financial issues. The only councilor that remains that wasn’t endorsed by Brainard is Councilor Carol Schleif, who decided to vote along with the new council on several unanimous votes.
- The council passed an ordinance that allows the council president to table a new ordinance instead of automatically sending it to committee. The council can now also decide to suspend the rules and vote on an ordinance on first reading with only a 2/3 vote instead of needing a unanimous vote to make that happen. This means ordinances could be passed more quickly without going to committee or taking several meetings.
- The council also approved a change to when the council agenda will be submitted and released to the general public. Council meeting agendas will now be submitted 10 calendar days before the meeting instead of six business days, which means that the public would have more time to review materials and rearrange schedule to attend meetings.
- The council voted unanimously and immediately to raise the city’s water rates, which Utilities Director John Duffy said will help the city’s budget in wetter seasons when water bills are lower. It will raise Carmel’s combined average monthly bill for water, sanitary sewer and storm water from $55.79 a month to $65.89 a month, which Brainard points out is less than $74.52 in Fishers, $82.97 in Indianapolis, $83.50 in Noblesville and $92.82 in Westfield. The proposal also states that the rate will automatically rise with inflation so it won’t need council approval in later years. Some members of the general public suggested that the annual rate increases shouldn’t be automatic.
- The council voted to ease its oversight of the Carmel Redevelopment Commission after the previous city council voted to tighten restrictions on the government organization. The CRC also no longer also has to submit a bi-annual written report to the city council.
Anticipating tougher rules regarding redevelopment commissions around the state, the previous city council passed rules requiring the CRC to go to the council for various forms of budget approval. Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said the city council’s rules exceeded the state’s rules, which he believes isn’t legal. The new council changed that at its first meeting. The city council unanimously rolled back the rule that all professional services contracts of more than $25,000 had to be approved by the council.
The council decided to table a proposal that the CRC could now budget professional contracts without council approval. The CRC — or an affiliate of the CRC — also would no longer have to come to the city council for approval for every single contract that is payable with any amount of public funds. In many cases, the CRC would still have to seek council approval, but some city councilors admitted confusion at the language and asked for more time to study the proposal.
- The council voted to increase the amount that City Attorney Doug Haney can settle lawsuits for without going through the discovery process. Right now it’s set at $8,000, but it was increased to $25,000. Brainard pointed out that this is partially an inflation issue. Haney said he has no problem saying no or going to trial and he won’t give into frivolous lawsuits, but he said this gives him the ability to settle cases quickly and often save the city a sizable amount of money in legal expenses.
- The council also approved a change that allows the mayor to budget arts funding in the annual budget based on whatever 1 percent of the annual budget will be. Previously, city law said that the city should spend on arts grants around 1 percent of the city’s budget, but it is often based on the previous year’s budget instead of the current one. Previously, the city council voted on the mayor’s recommendation for arts grants instead of being submitted along with the usual budget process. Brainard said that some small arts organizations count on this money and the process has previously been too slow, which has hurt the planning processes for these small arts organizations.
- On the other hand, the council was unable to get enough votes to immediately get rid of the process that allows Carmel residents to opt-out of city trash services with Republic Services. Until the previous ordinance about suspending the rules is signed it had to be unanimous and two councilors — Campbell and Schleif — voted against immediate action, so it’s been held over to the next meeting. Councilors in favor said this will reduce traffic on the roads and improve public safety. Several residents spoke against it, saying that maneuvering the large trash cans can be difficult, so they chose other services. Brainard said smaller trash cans are available for people and that this saves the residents money. Councilor Jeff Worrell said there’s talk of adding weekly recycling with Republic as well. Councilor Sue Finkam said the road pavement damage from one combination trash truck is equal to 5,485 cars.