Budget sent back to council after commissioners reject county request for $1 million from CEDIT funds

Bartholomew County commissioners have spurned the Bartholomew County Council over a budget request for $1 million from next year’s County Economic Development Income Tax funds.

That’s because the funds, controlled by the three-member board of commissioners, are already earmarked for other needs.

Commissioner Carl Lienhoop said Monday during the group’s weekly meeting that the county council wants those CEDIT funds to pay for two items:

A proposed 3 percent pay raise for county employees.

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The county’s portion of funding emergency dispatch services following a loss of revenue generated by telephone surcharges.

However, those CEDIT funds are necessary to pay for about $2.7 million needed annually to maintain 710 miles of county roads, commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

Additional money from that same fund is also required to pay for major projects such as recent renovations on Carr Hill Road, County Road 350W and Hartmann Drive in the county’s jurisdiction, he said.

The county is repaving 31 miles of roads this year, a higher volume than usual because the commissioners had cut back on road expenditures during the past six years to help pay for the county’s general operating expenses, Kleinhenz said.

The commissioners only agreed to provide more than $1 million of CEDIT funds a year ago for 2016 expenses after receiving a promise from the council they wouldn’t have to do it again this year, Kleinhenz said.

“It’s not something we ever thought we could continue to do over 10 to 15 years,” Kleinhenz said. “That’s the alarming trend we are seeing, and it can’t continue.”

In addition, the commissioners were assured last year the council would adequately address revenue shortfalls and expenses during this year’s budget talks, Lienhoop said.

“They are going to pin employee raises on CEDIT money, whether the commissioners give it to the council or not,” Kleinhenz said.

“It’s disturbing because the council essentially told us that $1 million they need to balance the budget is for employee raises and for the E911 shortfall,” Lienhoop said. “Now, how is that going to play in the newspaper or on the radio?”

The county council must make tough decisions required to balance the budget, such as raising taxes, reducing services or increasing efficiency, Kleinhenz said.

In contrast, the commissioners are focusing on their normal responsibilities — maintaining roads, bridges and buildings, Lienhoop said.

The council has also asked the commissioners to approve a new tax.

The creation of a cumulative capital improvement fund is now being considered because state lawmakers have not placed as many spending limitations on its revenue compared to new restrictions on the already existing cumulative bridge fund, county auditor Barb Hackman said last week.

According to 2013 figures, such a fund would raise property taxes 4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation the first year, followed by up to 7 cents annually in subsequent years.

In addition to the CEDIT funds and new tax, the council is also asking the commissioners to use their $1.07 million telecommunications fund to purchase new radios and body cameras at a cost of $111,000 annually over the next five years.

However, the commissioners agreed last month to utilize $700,000 from that fund to purchase the Premier Ag building at 785 S. Marr Road to house county offices, including the local Purdue Extension office, Flohr said.

Much of the remaining money from the telecommunications fund — which receives $100,000 annually from cable franchise fees — has been earmarked to finance necessary renovations at the 64-year-old Bartholomew County Highway Department garage.

While agreeing the use of telecommunications fund to pay for body cameras and radios would be proper, that fund has now become the only option available to the commissioners to address building issues, commissioner Rick Flohr said.

As a worker incentive, the council is also asking the commissioners to reduce the work week for county employees not employed in public safety jobs by 30 minutes each workday while keeping their weekly pay the same, Lienhoop said.

Several county officials have said in recent years that Bartholomew is the last of 92 Indiana counties to keep most of its county offices open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

What's next?

The Bartholomew County Council will resume 2017 budget talks today at 5 p.m. in their fourth floor chambers at the Bartholomew County Government Office Building, 440 Third St., Columbus.

As of the end of last week’s budget talks, the council still needed to cut about $1 million of proposed general expenses to reach their target of a $19.34 million general fund, county auditor Barb Hackman said.

That figure does not take into account about $1.2 million in proposed large expenditures that have been set aside to concentrate on general expenses, council members said last week.

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

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