Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Peterson’s Plan, the 2007 Sequel

Peterson’s plan would pay-off looming public safety pension costs once and for all, clear way for investing millions more in aggressive crime fighting, prevention, according to a press release issued by the Mayor's office.

Mayor Bart Peterson [Jan. 9] unveiled his plan for funding and addressing the city’s long term crime fighting needs during a primetime speech to the people of Indianapolis.

Peterson’s crime fighting package includes investing $85 million more annually to:

  • Aggressively fight crime, drugs and gangs by keeping more police officers on the street, keeping criminals in jail and fixing the county’s long-broken criminal justice system

  • Payoff the city’s looming, unfunded public safety pension obligation and solve decades-old financial problems once and for all

  • Ramp-up crime prevention efforts as called for in today’s report issued by the Community Crime Prevention Taskforce by spending millions annually in city funds on prevention programs; and

  • Give much needed property tax relief to residents, allowing the city to invest more in public safety without raising property taxes.

“Our city has under funded public safety for decades, and last year’s rise in crime was an all too harsh wake up call,” Mayor Peterson said. “Recent investments in public safety – including $36 million added to this year’s budget for new crime-fighting initiatives – mark progress, but that will be short-lived unless we sustain the increased spending for our criminal justice system and invest in crime fighting for the long term.

“We must ‘right-size’ the criminal justice system for decades to come, and that means securing the necessary funding needed to keep improving public safety, and this cannot happen by continuing to patch our budget together every year with string and baling wire.”

Stepped up crime-fighting for long term. Approximately $50 million is needed annually to continue the overhaul of the criminal justice system, keep up the intense street-level fight on crime, and pay for the Mayor’s commitment to invest in crime prevention programs. The efforts include:

  • Increasing police presence in neighborhoods by continuing to strengthen the police force, fund police overtime and add 137 officers to street through efficiencies gained in the police merger;

  • Continuing the warrant strike team that apprehends felony defendants for failing to appear in court;

  • Continuing night court, the operation of the new felony courts and adding prosecutors and public defenders;

  • Keeping in place hundreds of additional jail beds leased last year;

  • Eliminating the backlog of firearms/ballistics tests at the crime lab;

  • Dedicating city funds to support crime prevention programs that are proven to work.

Paying-off looming $450 million pension obligation. To invest the necessary resources in these initiatives and shore up public safety for the long-term, the Mayor’s plan calls for putting the city on firm financial footing for the future by solving – once and for all – the decades-old, unpaid pre-1977 public safety pension obligation, which totals more than $450 million in today’s dollars. To do this, the city would borrow $450 million and invest those funds to cover the future costs. This would allow the city to stabilize the annual pre-1977 pension payment.

The annual payment under the Mayor’s plan would be consistently around $35 million a year and the fund would be backed by a dedicated funding source.

Once thought untouchable, retiree pensions are now coming under attack as corporations -- and even some cities -- across the country renege on retirement plans. The Mayor said he will not let that happen in Indianapolis.

“We must keep our promise to our retired public safety heroes,” Peterson said.

Funding the crime fighting package. To cover the $85 million needed for the Mayor’s crime fighting package, the city will aggressively lobby the state legislature to enact four legislative proposals:

  1. -Indianapolis Works. The city will once again renew its efforts to consolidate the township fire departments into the Indianapolis Fire Department. The savings from the eight remaining mergers would account for at least $15 million in annual savings.

  2. - Hometown Matters. This proposal, backed by bi-partisan local leaders throughout the state, allows city’s and towns the fiscal flexibility to cut their reliance on property taxes and provide tax relief while raising revenues through other local options.

  3. -Pension legislation. The Mayor will ask the legislature to pass a measure that allows Indianapolis to borrow money and remove the pension obligation from its operating budget.

  4. - Property tax relief through State takeover of child welfare. The Mayor will ask legislators to have the state cover the growth of the child welfare budget dating back to 2005, which would remove a significant line item from the city’s budget and provide local taxpayers with nearly $40 million in tax property tax relief. Local government and taxpayers have been forced to pay for the state’s Department of Child Services even though the state manages the services. Costs for child welfare have risen by 65 percent over the past three years.

“We need the state’s help – not a handout,” Peterson said. “We are simply asking for the authority to let us solve our own problems.”

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