County offered finance advice

Two of Columbus’ largest employers are offering to help Bartholomew County avoid another financial crisis.

Representatives from Cummins Inc. and Columbus Regional Health said they are willing to help the county develop a three- to five-year financial plan, said Laura DeDomenic, a Bartholomew County council member.

The offer, previously outlined to the Bartholomew County commissioners, was presented during the county council’s Monday night work session.

DeDomenic was accompanied by Julie Del Genio, treasury projects manager for Cummins. Volunteers also include Marlene Weatherwax, the hospital system’s chief financial officer.

“We have some really good financial people who are willing to assist us, so we don’t have to spend the money to hire some smart consultant,” DeDomenic said.

DeDomenic proposed at least a six-month process with the company representatives to be completed in cooperation with the Bartholomew County auditor’s office.

The financial plan would be developed after meeting with each county department administrator to discuss income and expenses, DeDomenic said.

Although some county departments have chosen to embark on a full Six Sigma evaluation of their department to reduce costs and improve quality, Del Genio said such a review process is not being proposed for every department.

“Initially, we’ll just be doing the research, look at the short- and longer-term needs, and bring that data back to this group,” Del Genio told the council.

“Once everyone understands everything, we’ll let it inform how you might do things differently.”

That data is likely to include benchmarks established by other county governments, as well as other budget processes that can be used to formulate financial options for the county, Del Genio said.

Last summer, county government officials projected a $3.9 million budget shortfall for this year, caused by a number of factors including increasing health care costs and drops in state funding.

After several weeks of making cuts, the council adopted a $17.2 million general fund budget in October that is projected to keep the county more than $500,000 in the black this year.

However, there will be at least $1.3 million less for the 2017 budget without new revenue, county councilman Mark Gorbett said.

That money will have to be spent on its original purpose of road work next year, instead of being diverted a second year to the county’s general fund, Bartholomew County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

Financial planning will be necessary to deal with that shortfall and to provide for proposed extensive renovations to the Bartholomew County Highway Garage, additional sheriff’s deputies and significant infrastructure improvements to roads and bridges, DeDominic said.

The planning will also take into account further projected state funding decreases, DeDomenic said.

“We may get some answers that none of us wants to hear, but at least we’ll have the data.” DeDomenic said.

In order for the proposed financial planning to work, it will be important for all county department heads to have a positive outlook on the process, Del Genio said.

“I know not everybody is going to feel that way,” Del Genio said. “Some people will feel threatened.”

However, the process is intended to give each department a chance to have someone listen to their ideas, DeDomenic said.

“We don’t want to come in and tell them how to do their jobs,” DeDomenic said.

Since the concept will not be outlined to those departments until Jan. 14, it’s too early to predict how individual administrators or employees might perceive it, Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman said.

Although no council member spoke against the proposal Monday, Gorbett said he is more interested in developing a new way for the council to conduct its annual budget process in the late summer and early fall.

“I don’t hold the answers, but we’ve got to change our way of thinking and doing, because the way we’ve done it is antiquated,” Gorbett said.

What's next

The Bartholomew County Council will officially consider a proposal at its first regular meeting of the year to implement a new way of setting financial benchmarks.  The council meets in its chambers on the fourth floor of the Bartholomew County Government Office Building near Third and Franklin streets. The meeting will be 6 p.m. Tuesday. 

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.