By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — The Daviess County Council has set the financial blueprint for the coming year by adopting the budget. The council trudged through 2 days of hearings and debates before finally voting unanimously to accept the budget. It includes $1,000 pay increases for most of the 180 full-time employees and office holders and a 3-percent hike for part-time workers.
The council did exclude raises for the sheriff, Circuit Court judge, Superior Court judge, prosecutor and probation officers, because those wages are set by the state. "I feel good," said County Council President Michael Myers. "It's a good budget. We got to give out healthy raises."
One raise went through even though the office holder requested that his salary not go up. Sheriff Jerry Harbstreit told the council he did not want the $1,210 raise set by the state. "I talked with the state," said County Auditor Gail Doades, "and they said we can't cut it."
"This is one of those state mandated things we can't do anything with," said Councilman Mike Sprinkle. "We just have no control over those."
The council and commissioners did not receive a raise.
Other than the salary requests, most of the budgets submitted by office holders and department heads went through with very little change. "I think the department heads and office holders did a really good job in preparing their budgets," said Sprinkle. "They really kept them in line."
One of the biggest changes in budget came from the statehouse. A new gas tax formula passed by the last session of the Indiana General Assembly resulted in $540,000 in additional funding for the County Highway Department. Officials say they intend to use that money for matching funds on the project to expand CR 900E.
"The knowledge of those officials about their offices is important," added Myers. "They submitted good plans."
The budget is also reflecting what the council says is a good financial climate. "The county's economy, overall, has been better than the state," said Myers. "That's been reflected in incomes and tax revenues that have grown. That keeps the county budget healthy."
The growth does have a double edge. "We had grown to the point where the state said our population required the addition of a Weights and Measures Office," said Myers. "That is just part of growth, but we'd rather deal with those types of problems, than seeing our economy shrink and businesses leaving."
The county's finances also appear to be pretty good looking forward. "Hopefully, with I-69 completed and the development out there we'll continue to grow," said Myers.
Even though the council has signed off on the spending plan the budget is not done yet. The Auditor's office will now submit it to the state Department of Local Government and Finance. That office will review it, compare it to the assessed valuation, and set the tax rates. "We don't usually have any problems with the state," said Doades. "We just have to pay close attention to the details, dot our I's and cross our T's. The final budget should be back by February."
Besides approving the overall county budget, the council by law has to review the budgets of schools, townships, cities and towns. "I think that since we started doing this those budgets have started coming in within the state recomendations," said Councilman Kenneth Solliday.
One of the township budgets with a welcome change was Washington Township. It included an $11,000 line item for library services. "We worked very hard to get the library back into our budget," said Trustee Michelle Guy. "We now have a signed contract."
That contract will allow Washington Township residents free access to the Washington Public Library. "I think that's great," said Councilman Jo Arthur. "That is a great service that needed to be restored."