Ind. county 2016 budget includes bonuses, increased jail staffing

The 2016 budget and its funding requests are set to be finalized by the Howard County Council Thursday


By George Myers
Kokomo Tribune

KOKOMO, Ind. — Howard County's 2016 budget largely reflects the spending of 2015, but there were a few notable exceptions: bonuses, road funding and increased jail staffing.

The 2016 budget and its funding requests are set to be finalized by the Howard County Council Thursday morning during the council’s final budget meeting.

After a year in which the county was criticized for increasing taxes, councilman Jim Papacek complimented county department heads on creating a “realistic budget” for 2016.

“The budgets that were submitted were very good. We had very few line items that were increased, and the ones that were had really good explanations about why they were increased,” said Papacek.

Heading into the final approval process, requests from the general fund for 2016 sit at $18.42 million, roughly $370,000 less than the $18.79 million approved in the 2015 appropriated budget.

The county’s full budget, which takes into account the entirety of its funds, amounts to $42,852,271, slightly more than $42,331,746 appropriated in 2015.

While the numbers announced Thursday could vary slightly from the requested totals, Auditor Martha Lake said any changes will be minimal, with departmental requests staying almost completely intact.

Here are a few requests expected to be finalized during Thursday’s council meeting:

Bonuses

Following salary increases in 2015, the Howard County Council has approved bonuses in the summer of 2016 for county employees.

The bonuses, which were announced during last Wednesday’s budget session, will amount to $750 for full-time employees and $375 for part-time staffers, costing the county $386,000.

The bonuses will likely be paid to employees in July 2016, according to Papacek.

Prior to the 2015 salary increase, which was $1,000 for full-time employees and $500 for part-time workers, county employees also received bonuses in 2013 and 2014.

Howard County Council President Dick Miller defended the 2016 bonuses, saying they were a way to reward efficient government work without enacting a permanent financial obligation.

“The logic for it is that it’s a reward for the good work that folks do, but it also is not a salary increase, which is forever. Someone would challenge that way of doing things, but it doesn’t obligate us forever like last year,” said Miller. “My observation is that the council wants to thank folks that are doing a pretty good darn job for us.”

Potential Consolidation

Miller also discussed the possibility of position consolidation within some county departments, which would lower the total number of county employees.

One of those departments is directed by Howard County Clerk Kim Wilson, who has pledged to spread the responsibilities of the office’s next open position amongst remaining employees rather than fill it with an outside hire.

Another example was Superior Court 4 Judge George Hopkins, who eliminated one of his three full-time secretary positions, spreading the job’s duties amongst the other two positions.

While the council won’t order any position eliminations, said Miller, he trusts department heads to consolidate similar positions when given the chance.  

“We gained a few departments that are now considering consolidating if they’ve got a pool of people that are doing similar jobs,” said Miller. “We’re not ordering them to do that because the council doesn’t really know all the work that is necessary to satisfy local, state and federal regulations, like in the courthouse for example.”

Echoing Miller's statements was Papacek, who noted the elimination of a full-time job saves the county on benefits-related responsibilities even when the salary is spread amongst remaining employees.

“It’s not our job to micromanage a department,” he said. “We can make suggestions, and we have had some offices that have had reductions … and we’ve had others that have said they will look at it.”

Increased Jail Spending

One of the few county departments that saw major movement was the Howard County jail, specifically in relation to the sheriff’s department’s request of additional corrections officers.

According to a private study commissioned by jail officials, the facility is understaffed by 13 corrections officers and nearly the equivalent of a full-time mental health therapist. This issue, which could become more drastic following the passage of recent legislation, is the reason Sheriff Steve Rogers asked for four new corrections officers. 

The request – previously tabled by the county council – will likely not be revisited this year, according to Howard County Sheriff's Department Personnel Director Ree Moon. Instead, the sheriff's department will rely on the new $200,000 appropriation in next year's jail budget to fill the positions.

To help the sheriff's department staff the jail through the end of 2015, the council approved an additional $150,000 in overtime at its last meeting, bringing the 2015 total to $300,000.

In an effort to supplement Rogers' initial request, the council is expected to also approve a second group of four new corrections officers by the end of 2016. To fund this second group, Papacek said, the county will utilize the County Option Income Tax, which was raised during July’s council meeting.

The tax increase - which will cost taxpayers an additional 50 cents per $1,000 earned income – raises the COIT tax rate by .05 percent to its maximum rate of .25 percent.  Most importantly for council members, however, the tax will raise roughly $750,000 to $800,000 in revenue next year.

In response to legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly, the jail also requested fund increases in multiple inmate-related accounts.

House Enrolled Act 1006 – passed earlier this year – could eventually increase the jail’s daily intake by 50 prisoners. During 2014, the jail had an average daily population of 342, with an average daily population increase of 14 inmates over the previous year.

To counter the legislation’s potential effect, jail officials requested a raise from $400,000 in 2015 to $425,000 for meals for prisoners, and a raise from $22,500 to $41,000 in the food account.

“They are waiting on the change in state sentencing,” said Papacek. “We still don’t know how many we will get and if that number doesn’t come out to what we think the worst case scenario is, most of the additional funds may not be requested.”

Streets/Bridges

With the hope of pushing forward the county’s Morgan Street project, Howard County Highway Superintendent Ted Cain requested $155,000 in the project’s account, a slight increase from the $144,118 amended budget in 2015.

The Morgan Street project will stretch from Indiana 931 to Touby Pike. Associated with new U.S. 31 bypass, the county is required to work on the roads to allow for intersections.

The project also will include the addition on Morgan Street of sidewalks and bike paths.

While construction isn’t expected to start until 2017, the highway department will use the money for engineering, right-of-way permits and project designs, said Cain.

If the project’s construction start date is moved into 2016, however, the highway department will likely have remaining funds in the account for construction costs, he added.

Cain also discussed an item he said was on his “wish list” – a bridge replacement at 215 S. 800 West.

To help push forward the project’s construction start date, Cain requested $100,000 for the bridge’s account, $75,000 more than was appropriated in 2015.

Cain hopes to start on the project this year, but with a list of other projects on the agenda, he acknowledged the money could be spent elsewhere.

“It is kind of on our wish list with other things we want to do. If there is something that comes up and we need the money in another project, we will move those funds,” Cain said. 

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