By Arthur Foulkes, The Tribune-Star

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TERRE HAUTE - The Terre Haute City Council voted Monday night in favor of Mayor Duke Bennett's slimmed-down 2010 budget.

In an 8-0 vote, the council passed the approximately $100-million spending plan for the city. The budget includes about $4 million in cuts compared with the 2009 budget, Bennett told the council prior to the vote. However, more cuts may still be necessary, he added.

"I'm pretty confident we're going to have to" make additional cuts early next year, Bennett told the council.

Additional cuts in the 2010 budget may be necessary if the city's property tax revenues drop more than already expected, Bennett said. "It is very likely that our [property tax] assessment will go down. ... There are several communities around Indiana that are facing the same thing."

The city's property tax revenue is expected to decline in part because the assessed value of land in Vigo County is going down, Bennett said. Property tax caps passed by the state legislature in 2008 will also affect city revenue, he said.

Over the next two years, city officials are expecting Terre Haute's property tax revenues to drop by about $5 million. The city is also facing a loss of about $1 million in Economic Development Income Taxes in 2011 because of lower employment figures in the city, Bennett said.

While the 2010 budget includes some significant funding cuts, it avoids "dramatic" cuts, such as the shutting down of a city department or laying off "a tremendous amount" of workers, Bennett said. "We're going to have to do the tougher stuff as we move forward," he said.

The council voted unanimously in favor of the 2010 budget, which includes about $31 million in "general fund" spending, about $54 million in "controlled funds" spending and about $20 in "enterprise fund" spending. The "general" and "controlled" funds are supported by property tax revenue. Enterprise funds are supported largely by user fees, such as sewage bills.

"It's been a long six months," Bennett said after the council meeting in City Hall. "We have gone through [the budget] with a fine-toothed comb."

City officials were able to make cuts in next year's spending by not filling some jobs that became vacant during the past year and then removing those jobs from the city's budget, Bennett said. The salaries of all city workers are also being held steady for 2010. In addition, the 2010 budget also includes no funding for a new police station, which is one of Bennett's top priorities.

Perhaps the most visible effect of the cuts in the 2010 budget will be a lack of a city leaf pickup service along city streets, Bennett said. This is the final year the city will offer that service. In addition, grass may be cut less frequently in city parks and fewer city sidewalks may be repaired, he added.

"Is there any more that needs to be cut or are we actually - no one wants to say it - but are we looking at our next round [of cuts] that we're going to have to look at positions?" Councilman Norm Loudermilk, D-3rd, asked the mayor during the meeting.

"We will continue to have to look at that," Bennett answered. "Based on what looks like is coming ... I would say I'm not very optimistic about not being able to make additional cuts like that, somewhere in salary and benefits, because that's where the big dollars are at."

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