City leaders say they "feel stepped on" by county in jail discussion

The Terre Haute City Council talked about the plan for a new jail, the 2019 City Budget and pay increases for city employees.

Posted: Oct. 11, 2018 11:19 PM
Updated: Oct. 11, 2018 11:43 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Thursday marked another long night for area elected officials. The Terre Haute City Council talked about the plan for a new jail, the 2019 City Budget and pay increases for city employees.

Some Terre Haute city council members say they "feel stepped on" and so do their constituents because county commissioners have not consulted with them about the jail location.

The county commission is looking at the former International Paper property for the site of a new jail. As we have reported, that location is within city limits and near the riverfront.

City council members had asked that the attorney representing the county, Michael Wright, be at Thursday night's meeting.

They said they want to know why county commissioners requested a zoning variance instead of requesting a rezoning. Essentially, what this means is the county could move forward without city council approval. The county would instead only need approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The county attorney did not come to city council meeting and instead sent a letter saying the county would seek outside counsel for an unbiased opinion on city code and state law.

City Attorney Eddie Felling said after the meeting, "One important thing for the public to remember is that, no matter what, the way it's set up now, it would go before the Board of Zoning Appeals and that's a public setting, a public hearing type setting where if people are concerned about that location they would be able to go there and make their voices be heard."

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett requested the outside counsel. He said he wants to be sure the city and county follow the rules.

Mayor Bennett also said he is open to other options but will support a location in city limits. He says he does not support building in the industrial park.

City Councilman Todd Nation said this is a legal issue. He told the council he plans to submit a resolution to assert the council's role in this decision. It will be up for discussion November 1st.

In other city council news, the board unanimously approved the 2019 Terre Haute City Budget. It is more than $93 million. The mayor said this is the fourth straight year for a balanced budget. Now the focus is on building cash reserves and reducing borrowing.

The city council president agreed the city is moving in the right direction.

Curtis DeBaun said, "When I came on the council in 2016, the city was in the worst financial shape it had been in my lifetime. I promised I would only vote for good budgets. I voted for the last two. I felt really good about them and I felt really good about this last one as well."

The city council also approved pay raises for city employees. This includes city hall employees and staff in the Parks, Transit, Streets, Cemetery, Wastewater, Police and Fire departments.

Elected officials like the mayor and council members will keep the same pay they had last year.

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