The Bartholomew County Council might have to trim about $1.5 million in spending requests as it gets down to the business this month of approving the 2015 county budget.
However, variables such as rising employee health insurance costs and an expensive property tax reassessment could affect how much must be trimmed, county financial adviser Dan Eggermann told county officials.
Based on projected revenues, the council will have $17.2 million in its general fund for 2015.
Individual departments have requested $18.7 million in allocations, an 11.6 percent increase from this year’s general fund, Eggermann said during a council work session Monday.
Last year at this time, council members were told they would have about $16.8 million in general fund money to tap without having to dip into reserve funds. That meant $1.7 million had to be trimmed before the budget was adopted last fall.
For 2015, state statutes limit the county to a 2.7 percent general fund spending increase over the current level, Eggermann said. This increase is considered a growth quotient derived from rising property values, he said.
“If we want to stay where we are, the difference between the 11.6 percent increase requested and the 2.7 percent growth is what we have to cut (in the general fund), right?” councilman Chris Ogle asked.
Eggermann said that is correct, unless the council wants to utilize funding resources not generated by property taxes to pay for new expenses. Those sources might include revenue generated from riverboat gaming funds, excise taxes, fees and charges, Eggermann said.
Without using those alternative sources of revenue, 7.3 percent of all requested expenditures for 2015 will have to be trimmed.
If all of the funds budgeted for 2014 are spent, the county will have authorized spending $700,000 more than it took in, the financial adviser said.
While this year’s excess expenditures were paid with leftover operating funds from 2013, the county won’t know how much money, if any, will be left until the end of the year, Eggermann said.
Requests for more money
Departments asking for the largest increases from 2014 to 2015 include:
Assessor’s office, requesting an almost 11 percent increase to finance reassessment efforts.
Health department, requesting a 15.5 percent to purchase two new vehicles.
In addition, County Auditor Barb Hackman said most department heads indicated during a recent meeting they plan to seek a longevity bonus and across-the-board pay increases for employees.
Currently, only the 40 merit deputies in the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department receive longevity bonuses, Sheriff Mark Gorbett said.
Besides across-the-board raises, those officers receive $200 annually for every year of service they’ve provided as a way to address salary parity with higher-paying law enforcement agencies, Gorbett said.
In contrast, other county departments are expected to request only half of what the deputies receive: $100 for every year of service, which will be capped at a maximum of $2,000 every year, Hackman said.
But the county auditor said most employees realistically don’t expect to get both across-the-board salary increases and longevity bonuses. Instead, they anticipate the council will approve one or the other, Hackman said.
Eggermann said he anticipates income tax revenue figures that will be revealed in October will likely show a $600,000 increase, due to a comparatively strong job market in Bartholomew County.
Nevertheless, the county’s financial adviser suggested that the council make cuts to departmental proposals anywhere they can.
For example, health department Director Collis Mayfield said he expects his request for new vehicles to be cut after the budget process begins Aug. 19.
“If you kept everybody under a 2.7 percent increase, the operating balance will not go up. But you’ll have a real hard time when you have proposals of between 10 and 15 percent higher than last year,” Eggermann said.
When all county services and revenue sources are considered, the proposed 2015 Bartholomew County budget totals $22,666,468, Eggermann said. That’s 11 percent higher when compared to the approved total 2014 budget of $20,482,130, he said.
The county council was formally notified that a referendum seeking a tax increase to fund prekindergarten for the neediest students in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. over the next seven years will be on the November ballot.
The referendum would ask taxpayers to approve an increase of 5 cents per $100 assessed valuation to the school corporation’s tax rate, currently at 87 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Following the presentation by school district attorney Kelly Benjamin, Ogle remarked how county government, which is limited by the state on the extent of property tax increases, is often blamed by local residents for all local tax hikes.
Eggermann responded that many residents don’t fully realize that other public units such as school corporations, townships and libraries also have the power to raise taxes.
“The county unit is not what raises taxes,” Eggermann said. “It’s debts and referendums.”