By Jason McFarley, Truth Staff

ELKHART -- The city of Elkhart's decision to add 25 workers to its payroll raised questions this week about the timing and fiscal responsibility of the move.

The city council on Monday approved spending more than $1 million to hire additional staff in several departments, including police, fire and streets. But the step came with some reservations.

Councilwoman Mary Olson, R-at-large, said Mayor Dick Moore's administration should have asked for the new positions when the city begins its 2009 budget deliberations later this year.

"I just don't believe we go two months into a new year and add over $1 million in personnel costs," she said. "I believe this request should come up like every other budget request. It's a philosophical difference between the mayor and me."

Olson, who said her objections weren't a sign of partisanship against the Democratic mayor, also disagreed with using money from the Economic Development Income Tax Fund to finance some of the new jobs.

Councilman David Henke, R-3rd, said he was also concerned about dipping into the EDIT fund.

Local communities typically use that tax money for road and building construction or other projects meant to spur economic development.

According to state law, however, the money can be used "by a county, city or town for any lawful purpose for which money in any of its other funds may be used."

Most personnel expenses in city of Elkhart's budget are paid in the general fund, which is supported by property taxes.

City Controller Steve Malone said many of the new jobs paid with alternate funding sources this year would be moved to the general fund next year.

Councilman Brian Thomas, R-2nd, said some residents have questioned the soundness of hiring new staff at a time when many communities, including Elkhart, face a declining property tax revenues in 2009 and beyond.

Moore, though, said the city wouldn't suffer because he has asked his staff to conserve money in other budget line items such as travel and education, all in preparation for future shortfalls.

"We'll be OK in 2009 and 2010 because we'll be extremely conservative," Moore said. "I'm convinced we can do it."

As for using financing other than the general fund to create jobs this year, Moore said, "We can use these funds to the benefit of helping our citizens. We're not depleting any of these funds."

For his part, Councilman Dave Osborne said he liked the idea of using the EDIT fund for money to hire police officers and firefighters.

"I see it as an economic development tool," said Osborne, D-1st. "If our city is perceived to not have adequate police protection or fire protection, then we won't have economic development."

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