County council trims budget proposal

The Bartholomew County Council ended its annual budget deliberations by cutting 9% from next year’s originally proposed budget.

Besides having enough money to fund all requests, county Auditor Pia O’Connor said there will also be an anticipated 2023 reserve fund (also known as the “rainy day” fund) of about $10 million next year.

The council cut $2,276,606 from requests submitted by elected officials and department heads before the annual budget talks began Aug. 15. Total revenues of $32,114,352 anticipated for 2023, according to O’Connor.

Items cut includes a $356,828 reduction from proposed raises, leaving most full-time county employees with a 3.5% salary increase, rather than the 5% suggested by the Bartholomew County commissioners.

The impact of inflation, as well as a salary study indicating many employees are underpaid when compared to those doing the same job in several other Indiana communities, prompted the commissioners to suggest a higher-than-normal salary increase.

The council was also presented a survey that shows 24 Indiana cities and counties are requesting a 5% or higher salary increase for their employees.

Due to an extremely high turnover, the council did agree to raise the beginning salary of a dispatcher at the 911 Emergency Operations Center to $43,500, as well as provide additional money for those working the least desirable shifts.

“Usually we have a significant loss (of dispatchers) when they’ve been here at three years or less,” said center director Todd Noblitt said. The job of dispatcher is considered one of the most strenuous in county government, requiring dispatchers to be subjected to great stress, as well as work overtime, weekends and holidays, county officials said.

After more than 60 county employees left the county’s employment since the first of the year, most department heads told the council earlier the county is facing a staffing crisis, council member Mark Gorbett said.

Offering only a 3.5% salary increase is “the most ridiculous thing that this council could come up with at a time when there is money available and we are losing people,” said council member Jorge Morales said. He expressed his concern that the loss of competent employees could lower the quality of service provided by county government.

The agenda for those who advocated for substantial budget cuts appears to have been set last October. That’s when the council voted to adopt a set of non-binding fiscally conservative policies with a goal of reducing taxes and minimizing government debt.

In addition, council president Greg Duke pointed out the council gave 169 out of more than 400 employees raises last June to make their pay equitable to the same job in other communities.

“Now, you want a 5% raise on top of that?” Duke asked. “When is enough? This is tax dollars, and we’re spending it like it’s not.”

Councilwoman Evelyn Pence said she wants to use $6 million to pay off the $25 million jail construction bond issued in 2008 to expand the Bartholomew County Jail.

The following reflect the amounts that were cut from a number of higher-priced proposals:

—$1.5 million – replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the Bartholomew County Jail.

—$118,470 – hiring two new patrol deputies for the sheriff’s department.

—$105,650 – two new patrol vehicles and equipment.

—$102,250 – consultants for the county commissioners and county auditor.

—$60,000 – hiring of a human relations director

Although deliberations have concluded, the council could still make changes when next year’s budget is voted on during two separate meetings.

The first reading and initial vote on the budget will be Monday, Sept. 12, while the final reading and adoption is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 11. Both meetings at the Bartholomew County Governmental Office Building at the corner of Third and Franklin streets will begin at 6 p.m.