Sheriff’s budget largely intact after meeting

Much of a proposed $4.4 million budget for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department remained intact after county council members began considering cuts.

As budget hearings closed Friday, county council members had agreed to give Sheriff Matt Myers one of the three new deputies he had requested, reducing Myers’ original request by $103,414 in proposed salaries and expenses.

The council agreed to Myers’ request to hire two part-time civilian employees to perform civil process work at a cost of about $37,000.

An additional $70,748 was cut after the council agreed to provide Myers with 11 new patrol cars, rather than the 13 originally requested.

They would replace existing vehicles expected to exceed a 150,000-mile replacement guideline over the next year, Myers said.

For the time-being, Myers’ $555,020 request to purchase new radios and body cameras remains intact. The council is waiting for the outcome of three developments before they make a final decision. Those include:

A one-month testing period of body cameras in September.

A determination next month by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security on whether the agency will fund 25 percent of the radios.

A request pending before the Bartholomew County Commissioners to allocate part of their $1.04 million Telecommunications Fund to purchase the radios and cameras.

“If things stay the same, these are cuts I can live with,” Myers said.

However, council members learned Thursday they need to cut about $2 million from the budget in order to reach their target of a $19.34 million general fund next year.

State regulations that add new restrictions on how counties can spend cumulative bridge funds are largely responsible for the larger-than-expected projected shortfall, county Auditor Barb Hackman said.

In addition, if $1.2 million in proposed large expenditures are not reduced, general fund expenses would be $3.2 million short of projected revenue, councilman Jim Reed said.

“We may have to revisit everything,” warned Councilman Mark Gorbett, who is a former sheriff.

New and expensive requests, include radios and body cameras, were temporarily set aside last week, so the council could first focus on meeting normal operating expenses next year, Hackman said.

Also still on the table is a proposed 3-percent pay raise for full-time county employees, Hackman said. Financial incentives meant to curb employee turnover by emergency dispatchers and information technology specialists are still being considered.

With the recent resignation of IT specialist Kat Williams, new Bartholomew County IT Director Robert Scott Henry will be down to two employees when he begins work Monday. That’s down from five just a few years ago, with many leaving for higher-paying private sector positions.

With about $1 million left to cut to reach the target budget, the council met Friday afternoon with county commissioners Rick Flohr and Carl Lienhoop to discuss possible uses of funds either completely or partially under the commissioners’ control for general fund expenses.

To the disappointment of some council members, a presentation last week failed to provide creative ideas that would generate new revenue without raising taxes.

Last week, county attorney Grant Tucker said a contract with the Seymour-based Reedy Financial Group approved Aug. 9 by the council seemed vague regarding what services the council would receive in exchange for no more than $5,000 annually.

On Thursday, Reedy representative Andrew Lanam seemed to validate revenue projections provided last week by Hackman, Gorbett said. Earlier in the week, Lanam had told Hackman that if the council wants innovative revenue-generating proposals, his firm would need additional data, time and money, the auditor said.

What's next?

The Bartholomew County Council will resume 2017 budget talks at 5 p.m. Tuesday.  Additional meetings will be scheduled as needed.

The first reading of the 2017 county budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 8, while the final reading and adoption is set for Oct. 13.

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.