Budget shortfalls facing Bartholomew County are likely overstated. That’s the message from county officials.
The County Council met Tuesday night and the upcoming budget dominated much of the meeting. Talk was focused on early figures released by the state’s Department of Local Government Finance, which estimated that tax caps will have almost twice the impact as they did this year, resulting in an approximate $1.5 million shortfall in 2017. Barb Hackman, County Auditor, explained that those figures relied on false data that assumed that the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. would eat up additional tax dollars. She told the body that she spoke with BCSC leaders, who assured her that the school corporation’s tax-rate will remain largely unchanged.
Council President Bill Lentz then began talking about the possibility of hiring a financial advisor. He explained, that in anticipation of next week’s budget sessions, an advisor is needed, especially after the recent retirement of the county’s previous advisor. Some members of the council, Mark Gorbett in particular, wondered aloud why the body was waiting until “the last-minute” to take care of budget issues. He hearkened back to the budget mess faced by the council last year in finalizing a budget and said that he was worried that history may be repeating itself. Councilman Chris Ogle agreed, going so far as to take his share of the blame in not recognizing the need to hire an advisor much sooner.
Lentz explained to the council that he had been in contact with a number of firms about taking on the job. There was some concern among members about the short notice, but former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown, who was in the audience, assured the council that a qualified firm can help the county establish better budget parameters than the county could do alone.
The council voted 5-2 to approve the hiring of Reedy Financial to aid the county. Lentz explained that this was the least-expensive option. This vote was taken over the objections of Hackman, who explained that she would have appreciated having some input on who the county contracts with, as it is her office that the firm will be dealing with on a daily basis. Gorbett and Ogle were the “no” votes. They agreed that the Auditor’s Office should have a seat at the table in determining who they will work with. The pair also argued that this vote should not have been taken, as members were not aware that a vote would be held.
Once the vote was passed, a visibly upset Hackman chided the council. “I thought you had more respect for me and more respect for the Auditor’s Office. Obviously, I was wrong,” she said. Hackman went on to say that Reedy Financial will present the same information to the council that her office will present once budget hearing commence.
The council begins budget hearings on Tuesday. Councilman Jorge Morales says that these hearings will last all-day, five days a week, for several weeks. He, along with Gorbett, indicated a desire to put the county’s employees “at the front of the line” in this year’s budget. Morales says that he would like to see the council establish pay raises first, before determining how individual department budgets are structured.