Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ballard backtracks on arts funding?

last night mayor ballard introduced his budget before the council:

One surprise in the speech came when Ballard said the city "cannot eliminate funding for the arts," which he had proposed earlier this month. Aides said that while the budget would trim $500,000 from arts budgets next year, the mayor's budget included setting aside at least $1 million per year unless other funding sources can be found.

you may recall that his original plan was to cut $500K a year until there was nothing left to cut. this seems to say he has changed his mind and will leave that last million in place. perhaps the save indy arts petition did some good? or does the "unless other funding is found" bit mean that this is just wordplay, that he will eliminate the funding, but only once a few more donors chip in so he can pretend the cuts won't hurt?

beyond that bit of possible good news, though, there isn't much to be happy about in the new budget. the mayor still wants to cut $3 million from parks funding. the budget apparently assumes a consolidation referendum will pass and doesn't include alternative numbers in case the referendum fails. $11 million in sewer improvements were moved off the budget so that ballard can pretend it's balanced when it's actually not.

and of course, the mayor who promised that public safety would be number one wants to slash the sheriff's budget:

[Sheriff] Anderson, a Democrat, said Monday that cutting the county jail's budget would reverse many years of work to get out from under a federal lawsuit over crowded jail conditions. The proposed 6 percent cut to his department would come after years of budget increases to improve and expand the jail system.

"In the midst of a war on crime, the citizens of Marion County cannot afford a cut in public safety," the sheriff said.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker last summer lifted a consent decree after 35 years of federal oversight prompted by what the courts deemed to be unconstitutional conditions in the jail. Barker's decision followed a period that saw a jail expansion, court-ordered inmate releases, annexes to hold a growing number of inmates and the inception of a night court to more quickly process criminal suspects.

Anderson said Barker specifically warned against any reductions in spending that could lead the county back to crowding and court-ordered early releases.

"The mayor said he would not cut public safety," Anderson said. "We're a part of public safety. My concern is that we don't get back to where we were with crowding and early releases."

Anderson said he would work with the mayor's office to resolve the issue. The dispute seems to center on different cost estimates for the county-run, maximum-security jail.

Reynolds said the jail costs $107 per prisoner per day, while a privately run, minimum-security second jail in Marion County costs $42 per prisoner per day. Reynolds said the administration understands that it costs more to deal with heavier security issues in the county-run jail, but he said a cost of $62 per prisoner per day at a state-run, maximum-security prison showed that savings can be found.

Anderson said the administration somehow got hold of incorrect information about costs. He said the cost is $58 per prisoner per day, not the $107 cited by Reynolds. The county-run jail houses all of the most violent cases, as well as all the costly medical needs cases. Its budget also includes the cost of transportation to and from the courts.

"We had experts in to do a comparison of the jails, and after you account for the differences, it's almost a wash," Anderson said.

i remember all the republican hand-wringing about jail overcrowding and early release... it was still going on in 2006! and now that the problems have finally been solved, they immediately want to slash the budget and risk backsliding. why would the mayor want to do something so counterintuitive? the only reason that even makes sense is that this is simply an attack on a political enemy: the mayor hates the sheriff, so first he seized control of the police and now is trying to force the sheriff into privatizing the jail as well.

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