HANCOCK COUNTY — After months of discussion and budgeting, the Hancock County Council approved and adopted the 2024 budget at the October meeting.

James Shelby

Provided photo

Council member James Shelby said that when they do the budget process, the overall budget starts out at zero each year, having each department create their own budget for the upcoming year. From there, they go through each line item and hear from the different departments on why they are requesting that amount.

“We look at the overall budget compared with the amount of money we have and try to make a decision of who gets what,” Shelby said.

Shelby said that, in the process, they started over budget by $2.5 million, but through some budget cuts the council was able to bring the number down to one about $1 million over.

Shelby said that the $1 million is above what they were projected to spend the year before but believes they have the revenues for the $1 million increase.

“We on paper have a balanced budget going into 2024,” Shelby said.

According to data handed out that has the 2024 projection totals, it shows that the budget for 2023 is $3,101,676 less than the adopted budget for 2024. The adopted budget total for 2024 came out to $76,583,692.

After the adoption of the budget by the council, it will then go to the Department of Local Government Finance where they will adjust the budget as it sees fit and will have the certified amounts posted no later than Feb. 15, 2024.

Other large funds on the budget included the general fund of more than $26 million, which helps pay for multiple items, including salaries. The highway fund had an adopted amount of $7,273,730 to help with future road projects.

While the adopted budget with each fund can be viewed by visiting Indiana Gateway, some funds gained further conversation than others.

In an update at the Aug. 9 council meeting, Shelby went through proposed budget changes after their hearing in July and the prosecutor’s office was among those changes.

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton spoke at the Aug. 9 meeting and told the county council that they currently had six deputy prosecutors including himself while they were supposed to have eight. For the 2024 budget, the victim assistant position would be kept but the request for an additional deputy prosecutor and paralegal was denied.

Afterward, council member Scott Wooldridge motioned to revise the 2024 budget to include $17,000 for non-lawyer raises at the discretion of the prosecutor on how to distribute it among employees, so instead of removing 34,000 from the county general fund, only 17,000 was removed.

The motion passed 6-1 with Shelby voting no. He said via email the reason why he did so was because he was just trying to be consistent for the bulk of employee raises.

At the meeting, Eaton said that part of the multi-year plan was to request for add-ons now and not later on.

“I am telling you with certainty that next year, if we try to catch up to where we are now, then we’ll be further behind,” Eaton said at the Aug. 9 meeting.

Eaton later addressed the council and commissioners in a letter to the Daily Reporter and posted on Sept. 5 that “The current budget did allocate additional funding to make the wages more competitive, but they will still fall short of the salary structure in similar communities.”

Eaton said he remains hopeful that a leader with local government will sit down and work with the prosecutor’s office and do what’s best for the safety of the community.

At the Oct. 10 meeting and adoption of the budget, Shelby mentioned next year’s budget requests had a lot to do with the recent inflation.

“With the inflation we had, it’s hard to keep up with the increases requested for salaries, people’s costs and it’s just ongoing,” Shelby said.

For a more in-depth look at each fund and the amount adopted for the Hancock County 2024 budget, data can be found by visiting Indiana Gateway or budgetnotices.in.gov.