County budget review highlights need for additional revenue

The Bartholomew County Council on Tuesday morning will begin the review process of setting the county’s operating budget for 2017. Each department will present its list of needs, which serve as guidance for the council to make final decisions.

However, the greatest need for the county is additional revenue streams.

The county budget is underfunded and has been for a while. That’s made repairing roads in a timely manner difficult, for example.

A lack of revenue also had made it difficult to keep up with the needs of county law enforcement to provide safety for residents as best as possible.

The council needs to find a way to commit dollars to equip Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputies in the field with dependable body-worn cameras. While dollars were dedicated last year, the cameras that were initially recommended proved to not be dependable – and it will cost more to purchase cameras that will be dependable and last. Coupled with a radio communications system upgrade, radios and body cameras are expected to cost an extra $550,000, about half of the $1.1 million in new spending Sheriff Matt Myers has proposed.

The value of body cameras has been proven at the Columbus Police Department, where they have been utilized for the past year and one-half. The fact that the city’s police department audit and review committee has not had to hear any appeals since body cameras were introduced speaks to their value in accurately recording what happens when officers investigate incidents.

The task of how to provide quality services to residents and fund departments’ needs, and do so on tightly-squeezed budgets resulting from revenue challenges, won’t go away this year.

Because of state-imposed tax caps, the county has been told to expect about $1.5 million less in revenue next year among all county taxing units — including at least $650,000 less that would go to Bartholomew County government, county Auditor Barb Hackman said.

It’s time for the Bartholomew County to create a new revenue stream so that it can meet its needs the way it should. Last week, council members heard a presentation about the merits of a local option income tax (typically used to fund public safety). That’s an option worth considering, as is a wheel tax.

The longer the county goes without creating a new revenue stream, the more it will be unable to perform the services needed to meet the rightful expectations of county residents.