Consultant hiring process reflects poorly on council

Approving an annual budget for county government is one of the most important tasks — if not the most important — that the Bartholomew County Council must perform. What council members decide impacts the operations of the various departments as well as the services they provide to residents.

The process is challenging, with hearings held to listen to requests from the departments, and weighing all of their needs against projections for the county’s revenue. Help from a financial consultant is needed.

The county had been receiving such assistance from Bloomington-based consultant Dan Eggermann. When he retired in the spring, a new consultant was needed to help the council work through the 2017 budget process, which started Tuesday and will wrap up when the budget is adopted in October.

Shockingly, a new consultant was not hired until Aug. 9 — one week before the start of budget hearings. The action was not even on the council’s meeting agenda that night, surprising the auditor and at least several of the county council members who did not feel prepared to vote on the motion.

Seymour-based Reedy Financial Group was hired as the council’s financial consultant by a 5-2 vote, to be paid $2,000 to $5,000 for its services.

The council didn’t take bids for consulting services or form a search committee, but acted on information provided by council president Bill Lentz. The only other candidate Lentz said he interviewed was former state auditor Tim Berry, who Lentz said quoted a price of $6,000 to $10,000.

The cost of financial consulting services from either of the two firms considered were less than the $15,000 Eggermann was paid in 2015.

Legally, the council did nothing wrong and appears to have even saved taxpayers some money. But the rushed, last-minute hire unfortunately doesn’t convey a message of an important government body managing its responsibilities in a timely basis.

The Bartholomew County Council could have and should have been more transparent in its efforts to hire a financial consultant leading into the annual budget review.