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County lining up budget priorities


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GREENFIELD — From a new roof on the county jail to expanded hours at the Hancock County Veterans Services office, local officials are already looking ahead to the county’s wish-list expenses for 2015.

The annual process of deciding where to dole out taxpayer money is a lengthy one. Tuesday, county commissioners got an early start, hearing from department heads and community organizations that want their piece of the pie.

The purpose of the meeting was twofold: hear from local groups such as the Hancock County Agricultural Association and Hancock County Senior Services on what type of tax subsidy they want; and listen to department heads on big-ticket items ranging from office furniture to building maintenance.

The commissioners will weigh all of the requests, and in June make a recommendation to the county council, which has ultimate authority over the county’s finances.

One of the biggest changes in the proposed budgets comes from the Hancock County Veterans Service office.

“If you look at other counties in the state, we’re severely under funded,” said Bob Workman, the county’s veterans services officer.

Workman proposes the office being open more hours during the week; his salary would increase by more than $8,500 to $25,650, and the total budget from the office would rise to $30,630 from the current $20,221.

The proposed changes relate to a new state law that requires all of Indiana’s veterans service officers to be accredited through coursework and testing approved by the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs. Workman asked county officials for an increased budget earlier this year but was told to come back when planning for 2015 got under way.

Officials might also continue chipping away at maintenance at the county jail. A 2012 study suggested a long list of upgrades were needed at the jail. This year, officials plan to do duct work and upgrade the facility’s chiller and condensing unit. For 2015, officials are eyeing new sewer pipes, lights and a roof replacement. The study suggests the roof itself could cost up to $320,000, but Commissioner Brad Armstrong pointed out that number is just an estimate.

In fact, commissioners are looking at building upgrades countywide. An engineering firm was hired to study all of the county’s buildings and improvements that might have to be made in the near future.

The results of that study are expected in the next two months, and Armstrong said some of those items could also make it into the 2015 budget.

“I’m sure it’ll identify probably more need than we have the ability to pay,” he said. “Our job is to take that information and prioritize what our needs are.”

Armstrong said he hopes the study will help keep county officials prepared for when things could start breaking down. Friday, for example, the sewer pipes in the prosecutor’s office backed up, and employees have been using restrooms in other county buildings. Armstrong said the issue will have to be fixed immediately, and contractors are being called in to evaluate the problem.

Other items discussed Tuesday include:

 New hardware for in-car cameras for the sheriff’s department, estimated at just over $18,000. The sheriff’s department is also asking for 10 new Taser stun guns and 10 new hand-held radios every year for the next five years, totaling more than $53,000 for the 2015 budget alone.

 New equipment for the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center included $10,000 for radio consoles, $17,000 for miscellaneous upgrades and $5,000 for new computers.

 A few community organizations asked for an increase of funds for 2015. The Hancock County Historical Society, for example, asked for $5,000, up from the current $2,500. Long-term plans include putting a new roof on the Old Log Jail Museum in Riley Park and a new heating and cooling system for the nearby Chapel in the Park.

Hancock County Senior Services is asking for $24,000, up from the current $22,000 because director Linda Hart said the agency continues to serve more seniors. The organization that receives the biggest county check – the 4-H Agricultural Association – is asking for $84,600, the same as this year.

While commissioners will weigh Tuesday’s requests and make a recommendation for the county council June 3, the council has also begun discussing 2015 budgets.

Jim Shelby, chairman of the budget committee, said the council has been holding preliminary discussions about employee raises, insurance, capital expenses and more.

While county officials have weighed a bond issue each of the past three years, Shelby said so far this year there is no serious discussion of a bond.

“The capital needs that we have identified for 2015 – including capital needs for roads – appears that we can handle it out of current anticipated revenues and fund balances,” Shelby said. “That could change, of course. That’s why we’re asking for the commissioners to do their due diligence.”

Shelby said the countywide building maintenance study could reveal some surprises, but it’s hard to tell whether those items will have to be addressed immediately.

Meanwhile, county officials are considering a 2 percent raise for employees, but that might come in the form of an extra paycheck. There are 27 pay periods in 2015 as opposed to the usual 26; Shelby said employees might get a bonus pay as the 27th check, which is about the same as a 2 percent raise.

And while county officials have been talking about giving raises to employees based on merit for years, the raises will likely be across-the-board again for 2015. That’s because job descriptions for employees still haven’t been written, and commissioners haven’t decided on how department heads would recommend raises based on performance without those descriptions in place.

Merit-based raises could start in 2016, Shelby said.

The budgeting process will last all the way through the fall. The county council will meet with department heads July 9 to go over expenses, and the proposed budget will be legally advertised in August. A public hearing is set for Sept. 10, with adoption scheduled for Oct. 8.

The 2015 budgeting process for county government has already begun with preliminary discussions among county council members and commissioners. Here’s a look at upcoming meetings:

BUDGET SCHEDULE

 June 3: Commissioners recommend big-ticket items to the county council.

 June 11: The county council meets with department heads in a luncheon to discuss budget plans

 July 9: The county council meets with all department heads during a day-long meeting about 2015 budgets

 Aug. 21 and Aug. 28: The budget is publicly advertised

 Sept. 10: A public hearing is held on the budget

 Oct. 8: The county council adopts the budget

Source: Hancock County auditor

 

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