- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indianapolis officials are considering a proposal for about $29 million a year in tax increases in order to add nearly 300 officers to the city’s police force.

The debate comes as the city has already seen more than 50 criminal homicides this year, putting it on pace for the highest tally in seven years.

A City-County Council task force recommended Monday an increase in the income taxes dedicated to public safety. It also backed eliminating a homeowner tax break, a step that Republican Mayor Greg Ballard has previously proposed but has been rejected by the Democratic-controlled council.

The proposal would boost the police force from its current level of about 1,500 officers to nearly 1,800 by 2018.

“People don’t feel safe in our community right now. The No. 1 priority should be put on hiring police officers,” Democratic Councilwoman Mary Moriarty Adams, chairwoman of the task force, told The Indianapolis Star.

The homestead credit on property taxes would be phased out over four years, with the owner with a $100,000 home ultimately paying an extra $30 a year, said Bart Brown, the council’s chief financial officer. An additional $15 million a year would be generated by an income tax increase that officials said would cost residents making $50,000 a year about $75 more a year.

Ballard has been frustrated over the refusal of council Democrats to end the homeowner tax credits.

“For three consecutive years I have asked the City-County Council to provide more funding to hire additional (police) officers, but they have refused,” he said. “I will give serious thought to any proposal that emerges from the council process.”

Chris Manolis, who lives just north of downtown Indianapolis, said he was among several neighborhood residents who are paying $150 a year for off-duty police officer patrols. He said he believed the proposed tax increases would be worth it to build up the police force.

“That is the main thing, having the feeling that you’re more secure,” he told WTHR-TV.

The 10-member police staffing commission was made up of City-Council Council members, residents, representatives of the mayor, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Valerie Cunningham, the city’s deputy public safety director, said the additional officers would improve morale and efficiency, reduce overtime costs and allow more community policing.

“Because we are short-staffed, many officers go from run to run and don’t have time for anything else,” she said.

Democratic Council President Maggie Lewis said she was still fundamentally opposed to the elimination of the homestead credit, even with the phase out.

“I know they were looking at some tax options, but I am not there yet,” Lewis said. “I haven’t changed my view.”