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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Starting the budget hearings

The County Council met Tuesday night. Before the budget hearings began at 7:30, Sheriff Risner requested an appropriation of $75K to pay the jail's utility bills the rest of the year. Monthly bills average about $16,000. He noted that the jail has been having problems with humidity and that EMCOR is trying to correct the problems. He also noted that his liaison with EMCOR, Kurt Stevens, passed away on Sunday. I have not found an obituary but I did find a note on his blog about his death. The request was approved.

The next item was a new application package for tax abatement that was prepared by Kevin Kelly of the JCEDO. It was praised by a couple councilmen and passed. Then because there was time, the council asked Mr Kelly to speak about what has been happening in economic development. He said that he was working on the annual report. There are two large expansions of agribusinesses underway, the Max L barrow farm and the Bos Dairy plus a variety of smaller business expansions or starts. He noted that the Comfort Suites will increase hotel/motel rooms in the county from 231 to over 300. With still some time before the start of the public hearing for the budget, Councilman Price said that Franciscan Alliance seems open to the idea of doing some testing locally for county employees that currently must be done in Lafayette, that the metal-theft bill sponsored by Representative Gutwein will have high priority in the next session, and that the attorney for the commissioners is working on an ordinance establishing a violations bureau, a simpler way to enforce ordinances.

At 7:30 the public hearing for the 2016 budget began and Sheriff Risner spent the next 50 minutes explaining his budget requests. The Sheriff's budget is one of the largest and most complicated of the budgets the council reviews and it may be the largest. He is requesting pay increases of 7% for most of his employees. He stated that when a new deputy is hired, it takes about a year and an estimated $97,000 to get the new deputy fully trained and ready to do his or her duties. Turnover is very expensive. His department is currently short five officers, though at least two of those have been hired and are currently in the training process. Some changes he will be dealing with in the next year is a state mandate that Indiana residents held in jail for thirty days or more be enrolled in Medicaid and given mental health insurance. He noted that almost all of the roughly 60 prisoners at the jail have either problems with substance abuse or mental health issues. People often vent their frustrations about weather or road closings on the communications officers, who of course can do nothing about these sorts of problems. The jail is short-staffed according to an evaluation by the state and he requested four new hires to bring it up to state recommendations, though I am pretty sure that he knows he will be lucky to get one or two new hires put into the budget. The jail usually runs with three corrections officers on duty and there are usually three deputies patrolling the 550 square miles of the county.

The public hearings on the budget will continue most of the day on Wednesday beginning at 8:30.

No comments: