South Bend Common Council passes bulk of 2022 budget

Oct 12, 2021

South Bend Mayor James Mueller called the 2022 budget 'historic' during a Oct. 11 press conference several hours before it was passed by the Common Council.
Credit Jakob Lazzaro / WVPE

The South Bend Common Council approved the bulk of the city’s 2022 budget Monday night. The council passed a $386.4 million budget bill, not counting American Rescue Plan funding. 

$310 million will go to baseline spending, or what the city needs to operate, and almost $75.9 million will go to strategic spending, or what the city spends to improve residents’ quality of life.

That strategic spending will get a $46.3 million boost from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), almost doubling last year’s strategic investment.

The city is committing a total of more than $25 million to programs that would strengthen neighborhoods – including home repair and home buying assistance, improvements to curbs, sidewalks and lighting, and demolitions. Roughly $17.2 million of that investment comes from the ARP.

Almost $12.4 million – including $9.8 million in ARP funding – will go to community safety initiatives, like homelessness and mental health partnerships and COVID-19 response.

Roughly $6.6 million will go toward “equitable access to opportunity,” including small business relief and utility assistance. The majority of that funding – $5.35 million – comes from the ARP.

The city will commit nearly $27 million to “robust, sustainable infrastructure,” but only $1.6 million will be funded by ARP dollars. 

Finally, $12.8 million will go to youth and workforce development programs, including $12.25 million in ARP funding. $10.1 million of that will go to renovating the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center on the city’s west side into the Dream Center.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Mayor James Mueller called the budget a “historic” investment in the community.

“The resources that we have from federal and state partners is accelerating our ability to transform our community and our neighborhoods,” he said. 

But some are concerned that money won’t reach the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. Several neighborhood organizations released a statement Monday morning asking the council to delay the vote until the administration provided more details on how the money would be used on the West Side.

“We don’t really program based on council district,” City Controller Dan Parker said at the council meeting Monday. “We look at where the need is, and we try and match the need that residents have with the dollars we have. But there is investment across the city – West Side, East Side, North Side, South Side.”

The budget also puts the city at a $26.4 million deficit, more than double 2021’s $12 million deficit. 

Parker said the majority of that deficit – $15.8 million – is due to the city’s planned improvements to its water and wastewater systems, which will be partially paid for with rate increases starting next year. The city’s “true” deficit, he said, is closer to $6.7 million.

The council also approved several salary ordinances – the first provided a 2.5 percent raise for teamster employees in 2022, followed by 2 percent raises in 2023 and 2024. The ordinance also includes targeted increases for solid waste drivers and mechanics.

The second reaffirmed police salaries negotiated last year, and the third raised the mayor’s salary by 2.5 percent. The budget ultimately passed 7-2, with council members Eli Wax and Henry Davis, Jr. voting against it.

The council will consider a salary ordinance for non-bargaining city employees at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 25. That bill includes a 2.5 percent increase for all non-bargaining employees, and a $1,000 incentive for employees to live within city limits. 

 

An earlier version of the ordinance included a 9 percent raise for the director of the city’s community investment department, currently Santiago Garces. But a substitute bill presented at the Oct. 11 meeting reduced that raise to 5 percent, causing concern for some council members. 

 

“We have someone from the Latinx community that is a major position in this administration and we’re singling him out to say that he cannot make equal pay from his other fellow department heads does not set a good precedent,” Councilwoman Sheila Niezgodski said. “Not when talk about all those things, about advancing minorities.”

 

City Controller Dan Parker said the substitute bill was created based on feedback from council members, and that the city plans to increase the community investment director’s salary in the future. 

 

Councilwoman Lori Hamann proposed capping all salary increases at 5 percent, and maintained that no one department would be singled out.

 

“The conversation is about limiting the raises,” she said. “The fair thing – the equitable thing – seems to find a cap that you would place on the salary increases across the board.”

 

Council President Karen White called for a 5-minute recess after Hamann’s proposal. When they reconvened, some members expressed frustration at a perceived lack of communication throughout the budget process.

 

“I think some of the problem is some of the council do not talk to the other council members, and no one has had a discussion with me,” Councilwoman Sheila McBride said. “We are colleagues. We’re supposed to have dialogue with one another.”

 

The council ultimately tabled the ordinance, and will consider it at the next regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 25.

 

“I think there’s assumption that certain individuals are privy to certain information others are not,” White said at the Oct. 11 meeting. “There is some bigger issues here, and so my motion was not to delay because of the sake to delay. It was to pull the council together and have a different level of conversation.”

 

This story has been updated.

 

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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