2017-09-13 / Front Page

County Council talks finances with Commissioners

Group Health costs wildly overspent
By Debbie Lowe
Staff writer

Carroll County Council initiated a meeting with the County Commissioners Monday afternoon to discuss the state of the county’s finances as they are now and the prediction of where they will likely be in the future unless spending changes are made. Council President Jason Scott explained the Council is faced with finding the money to fund all programs and other expenditures, including Group Health. He said it is the Council’s belief it would be beneficial for Commissioners to have a better grasp on what financial situations the county could be facing in the future.

Council member Larry “Doc” Stauffer agreed with Scott. “It’s clear the Council and the Commissioners have got to trim the budgets,” Stauffer said. “The Rainy Day Fund is sacred. But I believe employees should get raises, too.”

“We should not give raises out of the Rainy Day Fund because they can’t be sustained,” Council member Ann Brown said.

She explained once raises are given, that amount has to be paid over and over in the upcoming years.

“Departments have to learn to live within their means,” Brown continued. “Commissioners cannot continue to add more departments and programs.”

Scott said the Council has developed a $7.74 million budget for 2018, which is more than the projected revenue for the year. He said ways to handle the immediate situations are to reduce some of the expenditures now or use current surplus until it is exhausted.

Brown said the county was advised by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) the county will be $10,000 to $40,000 short from its current planned expenditures for next year. Brown said that figure will only come true if all of the expected revenue is realized by the county.

“We’ve had problems with payroll for the last two years,” Brown said. “We are $311,000 short right now and that number isn’t going to go away. Payroll is there forever.”

“We could probably make it this year, but you can’t do it every year like this,” she added.

Council member Carol Clawson asked if the county is saving any money with the current Group Health Plan. She said she heard it “is in the red. We are living outside of the means of our budget,” she said.

The Council learned in regular session after the joint meeting with Commissioners that, although more than $260,000 has been received in health claims reimbursement, the Group Health Fund is significantly underfunded. The Council approved a $100,000 transfer request by Commissioners to bolster the line item to be able to pay the bills. The original 2017 appropriation was $750,000 and the Council was assured by Commissioners and former Auditor Tom Gray, the Unity Health Clinic would save the county money. Clawson said she has been waiting to see the monthly reports from Unity, per the contract, but none have been shared with the community.

Council members and Commissioners made suggestions in the joint meeting how expenditures could be reduced. Suggestions included reducing courthouse operating hours, reducing hours at the Trash Transfer Station or closing it altogether and making dispatcher shifts eight hours and eliminate overtime (currently, they are working 12 hour shifts and automatically accrue overtime each pay period). It was also suggested some courthouse offices may be overstaffed and a reduction in workforce could help.

Commissioner Bill Brown asked why finances are taking a downturn at this point. It was explained it has not been just one situation, but several situations which cause concern to the Council. Council member Jamie Rough said there was an extra pay given two years ago and the county has been playing “catch up” ever since. He said payroll was short last year and money was encumbered to cover payroll. He said longevity pay was eliminated and payroll was miscalculated after that, which led to a shortfall and some deputies did not receive the amounts they were owed for two years.

Rough said the holiday pay calculation was changed which negatively impacted the budget. In addition, somehow, an appropriation amount was changed in the 911 budget unbeknownst to the Council and now the department does not have enough funding for the remainder of the year. And, Animal Control did not appear in the 2018 approved budget.

“It’s all catching up,” Rough said.

“We need to plan ahead now to avoid drastic cuts later,” Council member Brown said.

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