CHARLESTOWN — The Charlestown City Council, against the advice of Mayor Treva Hodges, unanimously voted this week to move funds away from quality-of-life, technology and public property upkeep, and dedicate the money to future sewer improvements.
The ordinance, which was a late addition to Monday’s agenda, was approved on both readings after the council suspended the rules and unanimously OK’d the measure. Hodges said Wednesday she’s considering vetoing the ordinance.
The measure adjusted Charlestown’s capital improvement plan to reserve another $800,000 toward infrastructure upgrades, bringing the total to $1.3 million. Council members said they want to have funds available for potential grant matches for sewer projects, as the city is considering several options related to its wastewater system with residential use expected to rise and demand to increase with River Ridge Commerce Center’s continued expansion.
“Our concerns are for our sewer department and our new sewer plant, and we’re looking at grants where we’re going to have matches so we’re trying to get a little creative here,” Councilwoman Ruthie Jackson said.
While Hodges doesn’t object to investing in the city’s sewer system, she said the council has $7 million at its disposal remaining from the 2019 sale of its water plant to Indiana American Water.
Additionally, the city is receiving more than $1.5 million through the federal American Rescue Plan.
The changes include reducing the $500,000 reserved in the plan for quality-of-life enhancements including upgrades to parks and other facilities to $200,000. The ordinance also reduced funding for upkeep of public properties by $150,000.
The technology fund for the city will be reduced from $200,000 to $115,000, directly affecting the salary of the next media director. Hodges had hired a new media director before Monday’s meeting. Including benefits and salary, the cost would be about $76,000 annually. The council reduced that amount to $70,000.
Hodges said Wednesday that she would find funding to honor the agreed-on salary even if it requires cutting money from her own office.
“This position is too critical and I’ve already made a promise to this individual that they’ll have a job at that rate and I will not go back on that,” she said.
The media director updates the city’s website, produces news releases and performs other duties associated with keeping the community informed of Charlestown events, public meetings and other happenings.
The council reductions also eliminated a contract with a private media company that was set to be paid $40,000 for several tasks including streaming city meetings and producing informative videos and social media posts about city activities.
Hodges said the contract had already been approved by the Charlestown Board of Public Works and Safety. Hodges wants to clarify whether the council has the legal right to override the contract, which was based on funds already approved in the budget.
Eliminating media funding restricts the public’s ability to “stay involved and aware” of how city government is operating, Hodges said.
“Transparency is the most important thing,” said Hodges, who added that she ran on a platform that included open government and better access to public meetings.
“If I have to put my cell phone on a tripod behind me and go live on Facebook myself, there will be a livestream of these meetings.”
Hodges pointed to the recent parks master plan. She said the majority of residents who responded to a survey about the plan indicated they learned about the issue through Charlestown’s social media platforms.
Jackson said Monday that the $85,000 reduced from the technology fund could be used to replace a pump station or to foot other needed upgrades for the wastewater system. She emphasized her primary goal is to limit the burden ratepayers will bear for the improvements.
“It’s a big project and there’s a lot of money that we’re going to have to come up with,” Jackson said.
The council and Hodges have been at odds over sewer issues multiple times. In March, Hodges vetoed the council’s decision to form a sewer board, citing costs and her belief that the additional layer of oversight wouldn’t help the utility. The council overrode her veto.
On Monday, the council voted down 3-2 a salary ordinance after Hodges said she wouldn’t budge from her stance that the sewer board members shouldn’t be paid more than $100 per meeting.
Hodges said council members initially suggested the sewer board, which includes Hodges, should be paid $500 monthly. The $100 per meeting stipend would equate to $200 monthly unless there’s a special meeting.
The mayor said Wednesday that members of other boards aren’t paid and that $500 monthly is too much.
The council has called a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the salary ordinance.