By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — The Kosciusko County Council approved several recommendations for 2021 budget changes during a special meeting on Thursday, Oct. 1.
During the council’s regular September meeting, Council President Jon Garber suggested the formation of a three-person committee to look at other possibilities for budget cuts and potential revenues. Council Members Sue Ann Mitchell, Ernie Wiggins and Joni Truex met on Sept. 16 and worked alongside County Auditor Michelle Puckett on the county’s budget.
Currently, the county has a $7 million deficit between its revenues and expenses.
In their conversations, the committee discussed moving $3 million in funds from the county’s EDIT fund to the county’s general fund.
Wiggins and Truex spoke with County Assessor Susan Engelberth about her department’s sales disclosure budget by moving one person who would be working predominantly on sales disclosures to the sales disclosure budget for one year. This move would help relieve stress on the county general fund. The same process for a second employee would also be followed for the assessor department’s reassessment fund.
The committee also spoke with County Surveyor Mike Kissinger about his department’s corner perpetuation fund, which has money in it that can be used for an employee. Kissinger told the council members that only half of one employee’s duties are related to corner perpetuation work, thus meaning that only half of the money could be paid from that fund.
“That fund can’t do that more than probably a year, possibly even two years,” said Mitchell. “But it is a fund that is outside the general fund and would help.”
Committee members said they also discussed the county’s rainy day fund and local option income tax.
“2021 will be much easier than 2022 and 2023 based on projected incomes,” said Mitchell. “We are not in the rainy process right now and determined that now was probably not the time to do a knee-jerk increase (to income tax) at this time.”
Regarding funding, Mitchell described receiving money this year as “a rolling target.” The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance recently gave the county a revised estimate of what EDIT money could potentially amount to.
“It’s about a million dollar increase under COIT and it’s about a $700,000 increase under EDIT,” said Mitchell. “So that’s gonna give us a fair amount of additional funding.”
Council also recently received memos from the Indiana State Board of Accounts stating that some CARES Act funding could be used to pay for public safety needs.
“If that money is available, that conceivably could be the last piece of the puzzle to make 2021 happen,” said Mitchell.
Council Members Mike Long and Kimberly Cates both expressed concerns regarding personnel services making up 73% of the county’s budget.
“I don’t know if this is enough,” said Cates regarding the recommendations. “That’s my concern. Because going into next year, it’s just going to create a hole that’s going to get larger in the next two years.”
“This isn’t something that’s happened in the last 12 months,” said Long. “This is something that’s been coming.”
“There’s a lot of unknowns and I think the one thing that all three of us, (in the committee) I believe strongly agree upon, is now is not the time to start cutting staff,” said Truex. “We’re not that desperate. Looking forward, it doesn’t look good, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The council unanimously approved all of the committee’s recommendations for changes to the 2021 budget.
County council’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, in the Kosciusko County Justice Building multipurpose room. The budget will be adopted during that meeting.