The departmental council will resume budget deliberations on Monday

The Bartholomew County government has enough money to meet all of the 2023 budget demands, so some speculated the county council’s annual budget process would have gone smoothly this month.

But two weeks into departmental budget presentations, Bartholomew County Council has yet to come up with a final spending plan for next year. The council must continue its deliberations Monday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in its cabinet.

At a meeting with administration heads, council members were told by each department head that they were facing an employee crisis, county auditor Pia O’Connor said.

Deputy Chief Auditor Dalene Pattingill reported that six employees left their jobs in the county on August 5 within two hours of each other. They were among 55 who have quit since the first of the year, Pattingill said.

That includes up to five Youth Services Center employees, about 10 Bartholomew County Jail staff and six 911 Emergency Services Center employees, board member Mark Gorbett said.

Bartholomew County Commissioners have recommended that department heads seek a 5% wage increase to help wages come closer to recommendations in a wage study that compares wages with comparable workers in other counties across the country. Indiana.

Currently, the county has more than $10 million in reserve funds and could have nearly $15 million in cash available in the general fund by the end of the summer, the county auditor said.

“The board didn’t need to cut anything,” O’Connor said. “We have ample reserves in all funds.

Nonetheless, the seven-member council has reduced nearly all new spending requests, O’Connor said. As of August 19, the council was considering wage increases of 3.5%, instead of the 5% recommended by county commissioners.

Two council members, Greg Duke and Matt Miller, criticized the county commissioners’ total budget request for 2023 of $14,086,813, an 18% increase from this year.

Commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop admits his three-member board isn’t proud that its budget was $2 million higher than last year.

“We don’t like to do that,” Lienhoop said. “If the community compares us to a year ago, it might feel like the commissioners went on a drunken spending spree.”

In reality, the commissioners’ total insurance bill will be 15% to 20% higher next year than this year, Lienhoop said. This includes an increase of $250,185 (up 37%) for liability and similar coverage.

“I tried to impress upon the council that, first of all, we have a lot of employees driving county vehicles and things are happening,” Lienhoop said. “Secondly, our prison is a (extremely high) liability.”

The commissioners also came under fire from Duke and Miller for asking for $1.5 million to replace the county courthouse’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning units without submitting a written plan, multiple bids and a deadline.

The estimate for the 20-year-old HVAC system, which is already causing some courthouse drains to fail, was based on a recent bid to do the same job at Bartholomew County Jail, which was much larger. expensive than expected, Lienhoop said. . The estimate given to the council was only determined after consultations with County Maintenance Manager Rick Trimpe, the commissioner said.

“We felt they were pretty safe numbers,” the chairman of the commissioners said. “But honestly, the courthouse system isn’t broken. We’re going to defer it to another year, and maybe put it in the 2024 budget.”

Lienhoop made it clear there was more at stake than personal pride.

“Honestly, you have to bite your tongue and be careful with your words, because at the end of the day, we still have to work together to get things done,” Lienhoop said.

“Getting things done” includes the council’s early summer approval of a request from county commissioners to allocate $2.2 million to pay for the county’s portion of the new Court Services Building. This is legislation that will save $825,000 in interest over the next 15 years. County Council Member Jorge Morales also referred to a July 2020 decision by the commissioners to transfer up to $700,000 of their money to council control for the purchase of 57 body cameras and 54 car cameras.

But it was simply not the Commissioners’ budget that was reduced.

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department requested a total of $12,489,799 for next year’s law enforcement, jail, courthouse security and addictions issues. This would represent a 6.4% increase over this year’s budget.

Their proposed budget called for promoting two sergeants to lieutenant and having them join Lt. T. A. Smith as team commanders. If this plan had been approved, it would have required the hiring of two new road assistants at a cost of $118,470 – and the purchase of two patrol vehicles for $214,850.

But after meeting with department heads from August 15-18, the county council said it would ax the two new MPs and their cars – at least for now. Due to inflation, the commissioners increased their gas and oil allowance by an additional $200,000.

Additionally, the cumulative bridge fund was increased to approximately $5.5 million after concerns expressed by County Highway Engineer Danny Hollander were raised by O’Connor.

“Everything got more expensive, so like Danny said, he’s been really short of being able to do the bridge work that he has to do with the amount of revenue from the cumulative bridge fund,” O’Connor said. . “He’s also been short of highway funds since the gas tax fluctuated.”

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