This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, August 25, 2014

More budget hearings

The County Council reconvened at 8:30 on Monday morning to continue hearing the various county departments explain their budget requests. As I listened to the discussions, I was struck by how much the process is constrained by rules from the state. The budget that the Council and then the Commissioners approve must be reviewed by the state, I think by the State Board of Accounts. The county is not supposed to increase its budget by more than 2.9%. If a new program is initiated for $100,000, but the state funds $50,000 of that, the budget is deemed to have increased not by the net of $50,000 but by the full $100,000. The Council can cut budget requests but not increase them. 

Having attended a lot of city and county meetings over the past six months, I have noticed frequent frustration with the state government. The state constantly changes the rules by which the local governments must abide. It frequently asks or requires local governments to do more or do things in more costly ways. It rarely provides the funds to compensate the local governments for their demands. In fact this year the governor wanted to eliminate a tax that provided revenue to local governments and no revenue to the state and had no proposal to compensate the local governments for the lost revenue. The words "unfunded mandates" were heard more than a few times during the discussion today.

Almost all of the departments reporting today proposed a ten percent increase in wages. A few proposed five percent and one or two proposed a measly three percent. All of them certainly know that ten percent cannot happen given the constraints of the budget process. 

There were over a dozen presentations in the morning session. Here are a few highlights.

The weed control people said that they are not just working to control marijuana but have also begun to work on palmer amaranth. It now occurs throughout the county and they expect that they may soon spend as much time and effort trying to control it as they do marijuana. They do not control in farmers' fields, just along the roadway.

The public defender was the first of several departments from the county court system. A court case has ruled that parents in all child abuse cases must have a lawyer or a public defender and this requirement will increase the number of public defenders that the county will need to fund. At present there are six public defenders, four who primarily handle felony cases and are thus partially reimbursed by the state and two who primarily handle misdemeanors and are not reimbursed by the state. 46 children so far this year have been taken from their parents by Welfare, up considerably from previous years. He requested two new positions for public defenders, filled either by two full-time people or one full-time and one position split between two people.

One of the commissions had to present the commissioners budget, which includes a lot of different things that do not fit anywhere else, such as upkeep of the county buildings and health insurance. Workman's compensation insurance is expected to take a jump, as is health insurance. The price of health insurance per person is $17,000, which explains why the county is so concerned with limiting full-time employees. The county will be closing on the Donnelly building (former Johnny Rusk building) on Friday and the plan is to demolish it. The Youth Center has enough children so that they should be economically viable. The big project for next year will be energy savings for the Court House, which will involve getting better control systems on the heating and cooling and perhaps replacing some windows.

Jasper County Community Services gets some funding from the county but is not part of the county government. (CDC Resources, another organization that gets some funding but is not a branch of the county government, gave a summary of what it does in the afternoon.) Community Services opened a new senior center in Remington this year and the building is debt free. The organization is reaching out beyond seniors to find other places where it can provide services. It has 18 employees, 11 full time and 7 part time.

Community Corrections requested four additional officers. They foresee a real chance of having full occupancy next year (presently there are two male beds and five female beds empty) because of changes in the state criminal code that will keep more offenders in local lock-ups rather than in state prisons. It is only slightly cheaper to house prisoners in community corrections than in the county jail, but those on work-release have to pay a bit for room and board, so that makes the net cost significantly less.

After a few more presentations, it was time for lunch. The afternoon session began at 1:00. Among those presenting reports were the surveyor, planning and development, the tourism commission, soil and water, IT, emergency management, the assessor, extension, animal control, the prosecutor, and the health department. The prosecutor wanted to add a full-time investigator. She said that because the new criminal code gave judges less discretion in sentencing, she expected that there would be fewer plea bargains and more trials. 

I missed the very end of the meeting because I noticed it was raining and decided I needed to go home and protect my basement. There were a lot of basements flooded last week, including that of the Mayor Wood. At the city council meeting Monday night (the subject of a future post) the mayor announced that people who had furniture and other things damaged by backed up sewers or other flooding could put them out for pick up on their regular trash pick-up day, but should call first. I think the number was 7833. There are now 20 to 22 people on the list for back-flow protectors. It may be a long wait.

The County Council will reconvene on Tuesday morning at 8:30 to begin cutting, trying to shape a budget that fits the constraints that the state has set.

And now for a picture. The city has been working on east Vine Street to remove a few more storm sewers from the combined sewer system and make them drain to the big underground pipe that was the Melville Street project.

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