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Friday, Apr. 18, 2014

County budget hearings a lesson in making lemonade

Posted Friday, September 10, 2010, at 12:50 PM

(Photo)
County council members, from left, Ed Cullison, John Wilkes and Jim Oliphant carefully look over some of the budget proposals during hearings that were conducted this week at the courthouse in Bloomfield. (Greene County Daily World/Nick Schneider)
I sat through and interesting and educational three days of annual county budget hearings this week.

I left the courthouse impressed with the dedication of our elected public servants -- the Greene County Council -- and deep respect for the job they do with our tax dollars.

It's no secret money is tight, both at the local level and filtering down from Indianapolis.

We're smack dab in the middle of a recession and the revenue flow our county once realized is not what it used to be.

That directly translates to tight county budgets that dig deep and in years like the one we are facing it meant the county payroll number had to be lower.

Property tax revenues are down.

Gasoline tax monies are down.

Excise tax monies are down.

Even county option income tax monies are projected to be down in the coming year because jobs have been lost.

The county council is charged each September with going over the budget of every county office and department line item by line item. It looks for every penny that can be cut or reallocated to make more sense in helping to make the budget expenditures come close to lining up with the incoming revenue stream.

Every year this slow process requires cutting thousands and thousands of dollars from the budget projections, even from lean, bare-bones budgets that a lot of the departments submitted -- especially in the last two years.

It's never easy to cut jobs and for the rare occasion six personnel positions that were in the 2010 budget will not be funded in next year's budget.

The savings by the job cuts in the General Fund probably amounts to more than $150,000 when benefits are figured in.

The council put the word out early that no raises would be offered. They followed through with that promise.

They also decided that no new hires will be approved -- unless for essential county services like law enforcement or first responders.

Also, when a county employee leaves, either by retirement or other reasons, don't expect them to be replaced in the 2011 budget.

So, we are essentially in a hiring freeze.

When the budget hearings concluded the actual cuts made from the budget estimates turned in by the department heads amounted to $752,217.

That seems like a high number to slice, but i's actually lower than most years because the elected officials and department heads are consistently doing their jobs and made significant cuts before the budgets were ever submitted. This trimming-down process has been going on for a couple of years and has allowed the county to hold firm on not raising taxes.

Did they remove all of the 'fat' in the budgets? Probably not, but they did try to cull them down and make them financially manageable.

However, the day of tax increases may be coming sooner than we would like.

The cost to run county government, just like our own personal households, is going up.

When medical and health care costs go up, it affects county government.

When utility expenses rise, it chips into the coffer of money set aside to run county government.

When wages go up, it costs the county more money to provide the services that its residents expect.

Health insurance is a big drag on the county's budget.

The county's share of the health insurance plan amounts to more than $1 million a year. That's tough to come up with even in a year when the county budget is not stretched to the limits.

Officials tell me that the county's share of a family health insurance plan computes to about $12,000 for every employee on the plan.

Another problem with this and every budget is roads.

The maintenance and building of roads didn't get much help in the 2011 budget because of nose-diving gasoline tax revenues which fund the highway department.

A total of $368,530 was sliced from the County Highway, Local Road and Street, Cumulative Bridge and Wheel Tax funds.

That means there will be less actual roadwork done because there will be no money to buy rock, asphalt, or even gasoline for the highway trucks, graders and such.

It's a no-win situation for a small population, huge land mass county like ours. The fuel tax funding formula needs changed or our roads will continue to crumble away.

Listen up Indianapolis, Greene County needs more money to provide the basic services required of local government.

Somehow, some way rural and urban counties all need more money to operate.

We need more money for our roads.

We need more money to fight crime and prosecutor criminals.

We need more money to educate our children.

We need more money to provide programs for our youth and the elderly.

We need jobs.

We need more money to provide our citizens with the necessary services they deserve and expect.

Is the situation going to be better next year?

Time will tell, but my guess is the 2012 budget will also be tight, but thanks to some actions taken this year in culling down the payroll and related benefit package, the task faced by the county council might be a tad more pleasant.

For now, county officials are trying to make lemonade out of lemons and this year it was sure tough to add enough sugar to make it easy to swallow.

Nick is the assistant editor for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at 847-4487 or 1-800-947-4487; by email at schneider.nick@gmail.com or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages...


Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

I think the council has done a very hard job quite well. I do find it very frustrating when we lay of working people with families the week after announcing we are buying 8,000$ worth of cherry desks.

http://gcdailyworld.com/story/1660788.ht...

I am sure that this is just one example of something that could be done without or with a simple cheap desk. I know that 8,000$ is not going to solve all of our problems, but it is a glaring example of when a Government body spends my money, SOMETIMES they don't spend it like most folks would in a recession.

I like this article and appreciate all the hard work our employees have done and hope that we can all learn to do without essentials.

-- Posted by wotownboy on Fri, Sep 10, 2010, at 5:31 PM

I question the need to lay-off the EMA person who is directly responsible for obtaining $1.2 MILLION dollars in grants for Greene County in the last 5 years? Say what you want Councilman Murray, but it seems her being "out of the office" paid off greatly for our county!

-- Posted by on the Blood trail on Fri, Sep 10, 2010, at 9:10 PM

I completely agree with the comment by "on the blood trail"!! The choice to cut the only other employee in the EMA office is very foolish. Especially, if you look at the fact that half of her 21,000/yr salary is paid by the state and they kept 7,500 for extra hire......so essentially they saved 3,500. That is just insane.

It seems to me that the council rather keep employees that sit immobile from 8a.m. to 4p.m. accomplishing very little along with an excessive number of security personnel (that do next to NOTHING!!), than keep someone who is working very hard, attending meetings gaining resources and money for our county!!!! Greene County will most definitely notice her absence in the EMA office.

The County Council has made a very UNEDUCATED decision!!!!

-- Posted by greene co. citizen on Fri, Sep 10, 2010, at 10:16 PM

I think what you are seeing is the education of the citizenry. The fact is that some "fat" can be cut from budgets....but that the short term gain of "I don't want to pay any taxes" will hurt in the long run. There must be a balance. Things do get more expensive.

Government does provided essential services that individuals cannot provide for themselves.

It is not as simple as "I don't want to pay taxes...who does?"

I think that Nick does make a good point....Why does our local money and decision making continue to go to the state level then back to the local level?

Why do tax revenues go to Indy then back to us in smaller numbers?

When Nick says "Indianapolis", he should be saying Gov. Daniels.

How much money do you think this county is going to get back if one party controls the state Senate, state House, and governor's office?

Take one of our local state reps. races, our current state rep. has a consistent voting record of supporting local control and public schools.

The opposition is running on limited government .....and what else?

On his web site, no mention of school funding plans. Fine, if you don't want to raise taxes, what is your alternative for funding schools if their costs will continue to climb JUST LIKE everything else?

As a private citizen, I think that the candidate has every right to send his kids to private schools, but I do want to know how he plans to fund public schools....where most of our kids, grandkids, and family attend.

The point is this....Government does have responsibilities that it has to carry out and does have to have funding from somewhere to do it.

We have sold our some of our major assets(toll roads, etc......). It is not as simple as "I will cut your taxes....especially at the state and local level.

-- Posted by THE END on Sat, Sep 11, 2010, at 1:07 PM
Nick Schneider
When I said Indianapolis...I meant Indianapolis and the General Assembly. Not Governor Daniel...just so I am very clear in what I meant. And, the state has not sold the toll road and is only leasing it -- making millions of dollars for the state in interest. Those are the facts.

What about the fact that the all-wise council chose to keep nonessential jobs in the security department while cutting other more important jobs. Especially in the wake of 09-11. The fact that the council wants to disregard the importance of the EMA office now is truly stupid in my view!!

Maybe letting a member of the security department also serve on the council is an unwise decision. Just curious as to whether Mr.Butch Brown also got paid while acting as the county council during his 8a.m. to 4p.m. job as the security personnel. Please let us taxpayers know and also what is the salary of Mr. Brown and the other security personnel. This should be answered as promptly and accurately as what you chose to comment on in your last response.

-- Posted by greene co. citizen on Sun, Sep 12, 2010, at 2:36 AM

Nick,

The fact is the leasing of the toll roads will pay for 1/5 of the cost of the new interstate.

So, you are saying that Gov. Daniels doesn't have anything to do with our local money going to Indianapolis? He doesn't have any impact on how state money is spent? Come on, Nick.

Interesting, the governor decides when and where funds in this state are sent out....if they are at all but he has no fault in the process? Our state has one of the "friendliest" tax environments for business, yet where are the jobs?

That money is not going to any of the other things that you stated in your article that are so important.

If the money flows to the top and then back to the bottom, the guy with the checkbook has to take the blame at some point.

On a side note, I appreciate your willingness to acknowledge that government services are important and necessary. One of your more fair articles on government.

-- Posted by THE END on Sun, Sep 12, 2010, at 7:35 AM

I totally agree with On the Blood Trail and Greene Co. Citizen. The Council absolutely made the WRONG decision to cut the EMA's budget. Where do they think the grant funds for all those new 800 radios for our law enforcement came from? It sure wasn't from the Court House Security personnel.

-- Posted by 6Blessings on Tue, Sep 14, 2010, at 10:37 AM


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