County council gives preliminary approval to budget, keeps county raises at 3.5%

COLUMBUS, Ind. — With most members digging in their heels, the Bartholomew County Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a $57.5 million dollar budget for 2023.

Up only slightly from the $57.3 million passed for this year, the new spending plan was subjected to $2.6 million in spending cuts from departmental requests received last summer.

The total budget for next year includes a general fund of $29.3 million traditionally collected through property taxes. But additional revenue of $28.2 million is generated from what is called “home rule funds.” The term refers to local income tax (LIT) revenue, grants, fees and other miscellaneous forms of income.

Before formal budget discussions began Tuesday, council member Mark Gorbett made one more plea to his peers to approve a 5% raise for more than 400 county employees, rather than 3.5%. While Gorbett was backed up by fellow council member Jorge Morales, the majority of the council members didn’t budge from the positions they expressed in August. The vote was 5-2, with only Gorbett and Morales voting in favor of the larger increase.

As Gorbett informally polled individual members at the beginning of the meeting, retiring councilman Scott Bonnell said he would support the larger wage hike. But when the formal vote was made an hour later, Bonnell a Columbus fire inspector switched his position and voted for the smaller raises.

Providing higher wages is seen by Gorbett and Morales as a significant step toward stabilizing the county’s workforce, which has experienced a much higher than normal number of resignations. Morales says the 5% raises would be much less expensive than having to train a large influx of new workers.

While Morales described the all-Republican council as fiscal conservatives, he added there is also such a thing as being a fiscally irresponsible person.

“I believe this budget is fiscally irresponsible when it treats our employees this way while we have data from surrounding counties that they are getting more than 3.5%,” Morales said.

For more on this story, see Thursday’s Republic.