WARSAW — Kosciusko County Council held an informal budget meeting on Monday, Aug. 17 in the Justice Building, 121 N. Lake St.. During the three-hour meeting, council members voted to cut approximately $270,000 from the requested 2021 budget, which prior to the meeting stood at $48,143,577, an increase of $2,389,099 over the 2020 budget.
The budget will now head to an official budget hearing at 6 p.m., Sept. 10, in the Justice Building, where there will also be a hearing on cuts to the remaining 2020 budget designed to reduce the future effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. County Economic Development Income Tax distributions in 2021 and 2022, for example, will drop to $3,375,000 in 2022 from $4,475,413 in 2019, according to Kosciusko County Auditor’s office.
“This year we have to take a really hard stance,” said Joni Truex. “We need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”
This stance was in evidence during discussion of funding for Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation special projects, the only item in which council members were split.
Kimberly Cates argued for keeping KEDCo’s budget at $250,000. In spite of the pandemic, she said, the county is poised for growth in housing and industry, and KEDCo projects have brought “hundreds of jobs into the county.”
Sue Ann Mitchell agreed, adding the council and the commission have to sign off on expenditures. “That’s the time to say no.” Until then, she argued, the money should be left in the budget for the benefits it could have for future projects. “Leave it in there as a placeholder,” suggested Ernie Wiggins. The budgeted amount remained in a narrow 4-3 vote.
County Clerk Ann Torpy, in particular, received praise from Cates for “looking for things to cut.” The council approved approximately $72,000 in cuts to the clerk’s office for 2021.
In addition to 2021 cuts, the council will soon be voting on cuts to the remaining 2020 budget, carved out at a previous budget workshop held Aug. 14. Those cuts include: $50,000 for medical needs for jail inmates; $40,000 for Sheriff’s Office gas and oil; $20,000 for Sheriff’s Office repair and maintenance; $40,000 for Public Defender Service Pauper Council.
One point of misunderstanding at the Aug. 14 meeting centered around county employee wage increases. Council member Mike Long repeatedly voted against any measures including wage considerations. “We have a 5% wage increase on paper,” he said.
However, the other council members were acting on recommendations from a wage committee composed of three council members and one commissioner, permitting each department head to approve up to a 1% wage increase at his or her discretion. The council did vote for the 1% increase at the end of the meeting, and the misunderstanding did not affect any other votes.