Sheriff seeks bigger budget

Capital plan leads to request for $1.1 million

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers is seeking about $1.1 million in additional capital and personnel expenses for the 2017 budget, after developing a five-year capital plan and using a Six Sigma analysis to evaluate the department’s spending.

Myers said he has already distributed the information to sheriff department and jail employees and to county officials so there will be no surprise when budget hearings begin during the week of Aug. 15.

The sheriff’s department budget proposal follows the approach Bartholomew County Council members instructed office holders to take, Myers said.

“I’m not surprised,” former two-term sheriff and current council member Mark Gorbett said.

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But other members, including council president Bill Lentz and council member Jorge Morales said they prefer to withhold comment until preliminary revenue estimates for 2017 become available this week.

“We don’t know what our revenue numbers are yet, so it’s hard to determine how we would pay for that,” council member Laura DeDomenic said.

However, the council did learn last week that the county is expected to have $1.5 million less in revenue next year due to state-imposed caps on property taxes, Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman said. Compared to this year, that’s a $657,000 drop in income, Hackman said.

Other initial response to Myers’ proposal have ranged from those who say there is money to fund the requests without a tax increase to others who say the sheriff should learn to live within his budget, Myers said.

Some county officials have been reluctant to even consider the Six Sigma analysis and capital plan, saying it’s just not done that way in county government, the sheriff said.

“That’s what’s gotten the county in the financial position that we are now in,” Myers said. “There has been no capital plan for spending. We’re flying by the seat of our pants. We don’t fix it unless it’s broken, and then it eventually breaks and comes to a crisis and who ends up paying more? The taxpayers.”

Myers said the lack of planning and vision by county officials has put every department, including his, in crisis mode.

“Every county department — every officeholder — thinks their department is the most important,” Myers said. “The county employees, their lives depend on their jobs. Everybody is fighting over what little money we have — and this creates animosity among departments,” he said. “It’s literally cutthroat. Now the county council is trying to figure out how to get out of it, and that’s a result of no forward thinking,” he said.

Budget details

Myers is asking for five additional deputies to be added over the next three years, including three in 2017. An additional deputy would be added in 2018 and another in 2019. For 2017, the increased cost in salaries would be almost $219,000.

The Six Sigma study showed county sheriff deputies have been spending more than 50 hours a week doing civil process duties — serving court papers as required by the county’s legal system, nearly 70 percent within the Columbus city limits.

Instead, Myers is recommending hiring two retired law enforcement personnel for a total cost of about $37,000 to do the civil process, freeing deputies to focus on drug investigations, traffic enforcement and answering citizen calls for service.

“We’re getting hit with a lot of daytime burglaries and that’s because we’re not out in the neighborhoods,” Myers said. “Our 911 calls are going up and our protection calls are increasing,” he said. “But people are still expecting the service calls, too.”

The department’s emergency calls have been on an upward trajectory since 2012, at just under 400 county calls then to nearly 1,400 estimated for 2016.

The department has assigned three deputies specifically to the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team, which was formed in 2015 with Columbus Police Department and the Bartholomew County Prosecutor’s office, Myers said.

In addition to replacing those deputies with new personnel, Myers said the county is falling behind on vehicle replacement, which is delaying an issue which he predicts will eventually become insurmountable.

The sheriff agreed to postpone replacing sheriff’s vehicles until they reached 150,000 odometer miles, instead of 100,000 miles, and went from replacing 10 in 2014 to only five in 2015, and three in 2016. However, the budget for 2017 calls for replacing 13 vehicles exceeding the 150,000-mile limit because the replacements were not done the past two years. The cost is projected to be nearly $400,000.

In addition to the vehicles, the county has already heard about the estimated cost of replacing decade-old radios, and adding body cameras to deputies, at an estimated cost of $555,000, Myers said. The department is hoping to receive a grant to pay for about a quarter of that cost, but will not know if the county will receive it until this fall.

“We should have had body cameras before now,” Myers said of the council’s decision to purchase more inexpensive equipment last year, which the department vetoed because the cameras were not of high quality enough to last.

“This budget is not wants — it’s needs at this point,” Myers said. “In the past it has been, ‘What are you willing to cut? What is it you have it have?’,” he said. “My answer is if I didn’t have to have it, it wouldn’t be in the budget. We’ve been told we are 20 officers down for a community of our size.”

Myers said the entire county budget needs a financial analysis to see where the money is going and whether it is being spent on the taxpayers’ priorities. He recommended county taxpayers attend the budget hearings to learn for themselves where their tax dollars are going.

“Nobody wants a tax increase,” he said. “People think they’re taxed out. And nobody cares about police and public safety until you need a police officer. We’re getting more and more calls and being asked, ‘Why aren’t we your priority?’ They pay taxes and expect quality service. And we are not going to be able to continue to provide quality service without additional funding. Something’s got to give.”

Budget schedule

Preliminary schedule of hearings and other events related to the Bartholomew County 2017 budget.

August

18-21: Budget reviews begin each day at 8:30 a.m.

26: Round-table meeting with appointed and elected officials, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

27: First publication of budget estimates and tax levies.

September

3: Second publication of budget estimates and tax levies.

8: Public hearing and first reading of 2017 county budget and recommendations at 6 p.m.

October

13: Second reading and adoption of 2017 county budget, as well as for the Visitor Information and Promotion Commission and Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District, at 6 p.m.

All meetings take place in the fourth floor council chambers at the Bartholomew County Government Office Building, 440 Third St., Columbus.

LOIT meeting

A presentation and discussion of a Local Option Income Tax will be held Thursday during a special meeting of the Bartholomew County Council.

Bartholomew County Emergency 911 Operations Director Ed Reuter said he requested the meeting solely as a fact-finding and informative session for council members.

Since about 15 employees have left E-911 over the past 10 years, the discussion will primarily focus on securing sufficient revenue to retain quality emergency dispatchers, Reuter said.

By providing possible solutions implemented in other Indiana communities, the intent is to help county council members make informed decisions at a later date, Reuter said.

Reuter, who is also a member of the Statewide 911 Board, will be joined by Plainfield Clerk-Treasurer Wes Bennett and Clark County E911 Director Brad Meixell during the presentation.

The special meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the fourth floor council chambers at the Bartholomew County Government Office Building at Third and Franklin streets.

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