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County budget hearings begin Tuesday

By Katharine Calabro - kcalabro@ftimes.com

Clinton County Council will start making budget adjustments this week to work toward finalizing the county’s overall budget for 2019.

County Council started reviewing the budget in August and has now reached the second step within the budget process; completing revenue estimates and attempting to whittle down spending requests.

County Council President Alan Dunn said examining and accepting budget requests is part of the process in order to develop a balanced budget. The council will review 25 departments next week and determine from there the cuts needed to be made.

One of the biggest challenges the council continues to face are tax caps which restricts the ability to raise revenue. This affects the budget because there is a cap on how much the county can collect via property taxes. 

Dunn said the cap on revenue is a hard cap because there are Indiana laws that state how much money can be collected.

Dunn explained because some residents are at tax caps, the county only collects some portion of monies from tax bills. The gap portion is lost revenue to the county.

“The taxpayer isn’t paying a higher tax bill,” Dunn said. “It’s bad for the services that need to be provided because we have less revenue to provide those services.”

He said the council has been able to make up for tax caps by dipping into cash balances and increasing the Public Safety Income tax, but other options will need to be explored moving forward.

The general fund for the county for 2018 was a little over $11 million. This fund supports the day to day operations of the county, generally supported by property tax dollars.

Though Dunn is not able to give a direct number for the estimation of the general fund for 2019’s budget, Auditor Cathy Hamilton reported that the 25 departments have requested $12.9 million.

She said some of the items requested by departments will are not likley to be approved by the council.

“Some of those things are a wish list people can live without,” Hamilton said.

As of now, she said there are a couple of departments who have asked the council for additional employees and vehicles. Although the council has final say, she said this request will not likely be accepted.

Dunn said department heads have been responsible thus far with budget request because money and revenue is tight. For the most part, he expects departments to only ask for the necessities. He said this will make the process easier.

Because of an increase in case load within the criminal justice system, the Prosecutors and Courts Office asked to move from 32 hours to 35 hour work weeks, which is a significant budget item.

“That’ll be probably the primary change we will see throughout the year is adding those hours in that department,” Dunn said.

He said the more money departments bring in, the more the council can approve requests. This is why the council worked to inform department heads of the new Tax Refund Exchange Compliance System this past week.

The new TRECS program will be adopted by Clinton County Treasurer Carol Bartley starting in 2019 to pay delinquencies in property taxes.

Dunn said this program is a win-win for everyone as it increases revenue and can be adopted and used by departments in the county.

“To an extent we can increase the pie; getting people to pay their share who haven’t,” he said. “This program allows us to recoup a substantial amount of monies.”

The county meets starting Tuesday and will continue to modify the budget before sending it to the state in October for final review.