Auditor scolds county council for hiring consultant

One week before the start of 2017 budget talks, tensions flared between Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman and members of the Bartholomew County Council.

After council member Jim Reed made a motion Tuesday to hire the Seymour-based Reedy Financial Group to serve as the council’s financial consultant, Hackman requested that other firms be considered and she be given a voice in the decision.

The auditor’s staff worked extensively with former consultant Dan Eggermann, who retired in the spring, Hackman said. In addition, she pointed out it was her department that paid Eggermann’s $15,000 salary last year.

Rather than take bids or form a search committee, the council acted on information provided by council president Bill Lentz in securing a new financial adviser.

Besides Reedy, the only other candidate Lentz said he interviewed was Tim Berry, who served as state auditor from 2007 to 2013 before resigning to become chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, a position he left in early 2015.

Berry would perform the same financial services as Reedy but charge between $6,000 and $10,000, compared to $2,000 to $5,000 requested by the Seymour firm, Lentz told the council.

On a 5-2 vote, the council hired Reedy, which prompted Hackman to scold council members for waiting until Tuesday’s public meeting to bring up the matter.

“I really thought that you thought more of me, my office and what I’ve done for the past eight years than to blindside me like you have tonight,” Hackman told the council with about 17 people in the audience.”

After council president Bill Lentz thanked Hackman, she responded.

“You don’t need to thank me,” she said. “Because that was not meant to be nice.”

To some in the audience, Tuesday’s tensions might have had the appearance of signaling a tough upcoming debate between elected officials opposing new taxes — who represent a majority on the all-Republican county council — and those such as Hackman, who insist that new revenue has to be generated, council member Chris Ogle said.

One reason for that appearance is that Ogle and Mark Gorbett, who were the only two to vote against hiring Reedy, were also the only two council members who, along with Hackman, have been consistently willing to consider enacting a Local Option Income Tax.

Hiring a financial consultant was not on Tuesday night’s agenda, and no details were shared publicly on what specific services Reedy would provide.

After Gorbett said Tuesday he had insufficient information to immediately choose a new consultant, fellow Republican Laura DeDomenic responded.

“You are informed enough to want a tax without knowing revenue numbers, but not informed enough for this?” DeDomenic asked.

In his endorsement of Reedy, Lentz said the Seymour-firm had expressed innovative ways to increase revenue without enacting a new tax.

But despite appearances, Ogle and Gorbett said they are confident the vote to hire Reedy was not politically motivated.

“The problem was that we waited too long to hire a consultant,” Ogle said. “That’s the bottom line.”

To support his conclusion, Ogle pointed out that Tuesday’s motion was made by Reed, who showed a degree of flexibility regarding new taxes in 2015 and is not seeking reelection this year.

Gorbett, the former two-term sheriff, agreed with Ogle the council should have taken action to replace Eggermann much sooner than one week before the council was to begin its 2017 budget process.

But Gorbett added that since most council members had ignored┬átheir financial consultant’s advice last year — which included taking steps to secure new revenue — he felt little incentive to take the lead on finding a new one.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Hackman also told the council she believed they had ignored Eggermann’s advice in 2015.

Prior to the vote, Hackman’s patience had been tried by an audience member who said it was inappropriate for Hackman to be involved in choosing who double-checks financial numbers from her office.

“I do take that a little personally,” Hackman said. “The financial consultant does not check my numbers. He’s double-checking the figures that the (Indiana Department of Local Government Finance) gives us.”

Budget schedule

Preliminary schedule of hearings and other events related to Bartholomew County government’s 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.

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