Officials consider 3 percent increase for employees

Bartholomew County officials are considering a 3 percent salary increase for more than 400 county employees as talks begin on next year’s budget.

A total of $13,728,687 is being requested for employee salaries by county department heads, said Barb Hackman, county auditor. That’s $1,579,730 more than the $12,148,957 approved for salaries in 2017.

Wages are traditionally the largest portion of the county budget, Hackman said.

But a significant amount in the salary request involves hiring up to a dozen new employees for the courts and sheriff’s department, said Laura DeDomenic, county council president.

“We’ll have to evaluate whether we grant them, and if we do, how we pay for them,” DeDomenic said. Some of the new employees for the courts have already been hired, she said.

The council is also considering other upcoming expenditures including up to $5 million for a new highway garage, $3 million for necessary courthouse renovations, and $4.5 million for additional building maintenance and improvements.

Meanwhile, Bartholomew County Jail officials estimate the facility is losing between $50 and $65 a day per inmate in allocated funding, due to a state mandate requiring them to house most low-level felons.

The sheriff’s department is also seeking money to fund new two-way radios to replace existing ones so old that replacement parts will soon not be available. Body cameras for sheriff’s deputies and money to fund substance abuse prevention initiatives are other items being requested.

Although the county’s financial consultants made recommendations for the county to enact a cumulative capital development tax and increase others, and borrow $10 million by issuing bonds, the council did not support a motion to enact the new tax. Most council members said they wanted to wait until it got closer to the August budget talks in order to prioritize needs.

Hackman said she anticipates the council will consider enacting a public safety local income tax during the upcoming 2018 budget talks that get underway Aug. 14.

Budget talk schedule change

The Bartholomew County Council’s annual budget sessions will have a different schedule this year.

Rather than starting in the mornings, the 2018 budget sessions will be from noon until 6 p.m. for five days beginning on Aug. 14, said Laura DeDomenic, council president.

The change was made to provide the part-time council members with less disruption to their full-time occupations, DeDomenic said.

If additional time is needed, similar discussions will continue during a similar time frame the following week, she said.

The first reading of the 2018 budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 13 and the second and final reading is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 11.

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