City Of Lawrence Faces Budget Crisis, Cuts In Public Safety

New Mayor Trying To Keep City Out Of Bankruptcy In 2012

At a time when most Indiana mayors have their sights set on the 2013 municipal budget, Lawrence Mayor Dean Jessup worries about getting through 2012 without massive layoffs and drastic cuts in spending.

In a letter sent to all city employees Friday, the mayor said, "We must not let Lawrence go bankrupt."

This year's budget has the city spending $2 million more than what it will collect in revenue.

"We have serious budget challenges," said Jessup. "We're addressing them the only way we can, and that's to make cuts."

The mayor said he has asked the city's department heads, the unions and members of the Lawrence Common Council for ways to cut spending and boost revenue. The city has limited options for both because of property tax caps.

The mayor said he's looking at leasing and selling city property and raising fees as a way to generate income. Some of the cuts under consideration include reducing pension benefits to city workers, reorganizing city departments, eliminating jobs and cutting salaries and overtime.

The mayor blamed much of the city's fiscal crisis on spending decisions made in 2010 by the previous administration, which hired 18 new firefighters without a permanent source of revenue to fund the positions. Lawrence bridged part of the funding gap by spending down all of the city's reserves.

There's talk of cutting all 24 civilian EMS positions and making up the difference by plugging in firefighters.

"By doing that, it's going to cut our staffing levels well below National Fire Prevention Association standards," said Lt. Kris Kell, a Lawrence firefighter and district president of Local 416, Indianapolis' firefighter union. "That's going to provide an unsafe environment for our firefighters and result in a lack of resources to the citizens we serve."

Jessup said city leaders have struggled mightily to find solutions to the funding crisis, saying that none of them are easy or comforting.

"What we're trying to do here is not reduce services any more than necessary and still cut the budget," said Jessup. "And that's not an easy job to do."

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