Hoping to have more accurate figures than they did last year, the Boone County Council will hold preliminary meetings before their regular budget hearings in August.
“We had so much confusion last year with (revenue) numbers,” Council President Steve Jacob said, that the council “got into the actual budget hearings” without accurate information.
In September, after the 2012 budget had been set, Jacob, Councilwoman Marcia Wilhoite and County Attorney Bob Clutter learned at a meeting with state officials that the county could expect more revenue than the state had originally predicted. The council had been told to expect a 2012 revenue shortage of $4.7 million, partly the result of property tax caps and partly the result of fallout from the recession.
Earlier this year, the Indiana Department of Revenue announced it had underpaid 91 counties, including Boone, more than $300 million in local option income tax collections. State Auditor Tim Berry said in an April 5 email to Treasurer Deanna Willhoite that Boone County’s tax-collecting entities would receive a total of nearly $4 million more than expected.
An audit of the state Department of Revenue discovered that it had botched the collection or distribution of about $525 million over four years.
Rather than following the traditional method of holding a series of budget hearings, the council agreed to Jacob’s request for informal meetings on Aug. 14-15 to get a more accurate grip on revenue figures.
Jacob also sent emails to council members asking them to work with department leaders and elected officials prior to the official budget hearings, which will begin at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 20 and adjourn at noon on Aug. 24. Hearings, at which departments present their proposed budgets, should last about eight hours each of the first four days.
“My intent of these assignments is to focus on personnel,” Jacob said, so that elected officials and department supervisors can “get the idea of how many employees (they) need.”
One idea to reduce personnel expenses, Jacob proposed, might be establishing a pool of part-time employees who could work in several departments.
Perhaps, Councilman Gene Thompson said, the council could ask for budget status as of mid-year, which Jacob termed, “a great idea.”
The council also decided to advertise a 3-percent pay raise for county employees, because the deadline for salary requests is July 1, and budget hearings won’t start until late August.
When they submit budgets, however, department heads would not request raises for anyone, a move that gives the council flexibility. State law prevents a local government or agency from asking for more money than originally advertised.
Jacob said that in 2003, the county had 211 full-time employees; there were 244 in 2008 and, last year, 223, according to information from the county auditor.
Aaron Smith, a Lebanon resident who was at last week’s meeting to comment on a proposed increase in the county’s cumulative capital development fund, said he believed “there is room for personnel cuts” in county agencies.
Smith said his research indicated some Boone County department staffing was “not in line” with per capita spending in similar counties.