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Elkhart passes 2022 budget, includes new performance-based raise system for city employees

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Elkhart’s $92.6 million 2022 budget is now in effect after the common council passed a series of bills Monday night approving it.

Mayor Rod Roberson told the council earlier this month that the budget includes 4 percent raises for many city employees and the creation of 17 new full-time staff positions across 10 departments.

But three of those positions were cut through amendments Monday night.

Republican council member David Henke’s amendment removing a neighborhood planner position passed 6 to 3, as did Democratic council member Arvis Dawson’s amendment cutting an office services position in the street department.

Henke’s amendment cutting a constituent services position passed 5 to 4 but his amendment to cut the 311-coordinator position failed 5 to 4.

Outside of the staff positions, the biggest point of discussion was the creation of a performance-based raise system for city employees, something Roberson desired.

He said city staff have only gotten a raise outside of cost-of-living adjustments three times in the past 21 years.

“Last year, we stepped in front of you and said, ‘We’d like to take a look at performance measurements,’ you said, ‘Give me a year,’” Roberson said. “We believe it is the appropriate and most equitable way to do it, and it takes a lot of the issue out of whether or not you have to look at it subjectively.”

The council unanimously passed the salary ordinance creating the merit-based system, but the main 2022 budget ordinance passed seven to two, with Henke and fellow Republican Megan Baughman voting against it.

However, the meeting started with a legal question. Council member Arron Mishler was participating remotely due to a COVID-19 exposure, and council member Kevin Bullard raised concerns whether it would be legal for Mishler to vote on the budget remotely.

Mishler would be out of quarantine just a few days before the Nov. 1 deadline for passing budgets, but local rules and procedures regarding remote budget participation conflicted with guidance from the Indiana Attorney General’s office.

In the end, the council decided to proceed with the budget hearing. If the council receives challenges to any of the 5 to 4 votes due to Mishler’s remote participation, Council President Brent Curry said they would schedule a special meeting to address it before the budget deadline.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.