Elected Bartholomew County officials have typically responded to budget crunches with belt tightening in departments, trying to make do with less.
That may have worked in some years, but a yearly squeeze is not a prescription for the county’s long-term financial health.
A transfusion of new revenue is needed, and county council members and commissioners need to embrace the reality of their budget shortage of nearly $4 million and make the tough decisions that they have been reluctant to approve in the past — such as enacting a local option income tax, a wheel tax or a cumulative capital development tax.
Bartholomew County government faces a $3.9 million deficit in 2016, but officials think finding additional money will be needed to keep the county financially sound for future years. Officials also have discussed the idea of employee layoffs and reduced hours of operations. Continued cuts are just patchwork solutions and don’t address the broader problems.
The budget shortage comes at a time when the county is:
Facing rising health care claims on its self-insured fund
Trying to construct a new annex building to replace the one that is old and falling apart
Battling increasing drug use
Trying to repair and maintain roads.
As the county grows and infrastructure wears out, more funds will be needed for maintenance, providing services and ensuring that quality-of-life amenities are provided for its residents. Poor road conditions could hamper efforts to attract economic investment. A reduction in department resources will make it more difficult for sheriff’s deputies to battle drugs and other crimes.
A few county officials have suggested that a new tax be enacted to raise revenue, which is a good sign; but most have stiff-armed the idea, instead preferring to focus on additional cuts by departments.
The county’s budget consultant said more cuts could be part of the solution, but even he said a new tax is needed.
Continued cutting of department budgets is a self-defeating purpose that eventually has a negative effect on the ability to deliver important services to county residents and affects the morale of employees.
Hiring a consultant with expertise in self-funded health programs this week was one new step that county officials took.
Now it’s time to take even more significant action and implement new revenue streams as part of multifaceted approach to solving the county’s financial crisis.