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Was a decision to defund Tolson Center made prior to budget talks?

ELKHART, Ind.-- A beloved community center could lose its city funding, and some councilmembers worry they’ve been excluded from the decision.

The Tolson Center is known as a staple in the city of Elkhart, providing programs for hundreds of local kids each year. But because of financial constraints, the city is considering allowing another organization to take over.

In the midst of discussions over next year’s budget, the city council took a preliminary vote on the matter Tuesday. Seven councilmembers approved defunding the center. Two councilmembers, Dwight Fish and Brent Curry, voted to continue funding the center.

At that meeting, Fish says it came to light that most of the councilmembers had already made their decision prior to the hearing.

He says a representative from the organization interested in taking over the building, Lifeline Ministries, stated the deal had already been worked out—and that his organization was promised the space.

However, Fish says not everyone was made aware of those meetings—which would violate the open door policy.

“This councilman has actually been lied to and has been left out of the loop,” says Fish.

The Tolson Center is in Fish’s district. He’s a big supporter of the center and says defunding it would not reflect what the community wants.

“That’s the shady business we are in. It shouldn’t have to be this way. I’m not accusing anybody of breaking state law, but it sure looks bad,” says Fish.

Because the councilmembers who voted to defund the center were all republicans, Mayor Tim Neese explained there is a chance they were able to meet alone and discuss the topic together in a caucus.

“I can say there have been no secret meetings. Democrats meet. Republicans meet. It’s called a caucus, its fine to do,” says Mayor Neese.

Mayor Neese says that no deals have been made with Lifeline Ministries and to his knowledge all proper procedures have been followed.

“I’m not going to be privy to anything that’s unethical or behind closed doors,” says Mayor Neese.

Supporters of the Tolson Center packed council chambers on Tuesday and Wednesday night to fight for its future.

The council and the mayor assured the public they would take what they said into account and consider funding the center.

“It’s a democratic process and the hundred people that were there last night showed that they can sway attitudes and budgets,” says Fish.

Budget talks for 2018 will continue through next week. The council will take a final vote for next years plan at their hearing on October 5th.

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