Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune
---- — The Franklin County Council did what every other government entity must do at budget time – advertise high, budget lower – because a budget cannot exceed its legally published tax rates. The county’s advertised 2014 budget totalled $15.2 million, but when the dust settled after August budget hearings, the council approved $12.8 million, reported auditor Steve Brack.
Council President Jeff Koch, Oldenburg, said, “I don’t feel that one department got cut more than another compared to last year’s final budget. When you look at the requests at budget hearings, those requests are ‘‘wish lists,’ so sometimes they are inflated compared to the final budget. Then the council’s job is to make the budget fit the county’s tax revenue.”
He maintained, “Because of the current and anticipated business growth in Batesville in Franklin County, it is important for people to know how their tax dollars are being allocated.”
After the initial budget was submitted to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, it looked as if the council would have to make more cuts until IDLGF employee Cathy Stockhoff poured over county financial records with Debbie Richardson, the auditor’s assistant.
Brack recalled, “We saw in an investment ledger total monies on deposit/general fund $3.2 million. We were trying to determine if it was an actual investment from the general ledger. We sent information that showed our findings supported what we were looking at. Once we did that, we were told we could go ahead and use that to adjust our revenue and fund the budget.”
The council decided not to fully fund the unfunded mandate of complying with stricter jail standards state leaders adopted in 2013. Sheriff Ken Murphy suggested more than doubling the $751,912 budgeted for the Franklin County Security Center last year to $1.82 million this year because of the new rules. He will have to make do with $921,645, according to Brack.
Likewise, Murphy asked for $1.135 million for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department budget, which includes 11 jailers’ salaries. This year he must be frugal with $813,465, still better than 2013’s $681,823.
“The sheriff’s department did receive one new car. There were not any other large pieces of equipment approved,” Koch said.
According to him, “One of the things I am proud of is that we didn’t cut any jobs like other counties. When you cut jobs, you in turn cut county services and I don’t want that to happen.”
In fact, the council even OK’d expanding one position from part time to full time – the veterans’ service officer. Four new positions requested by various parties and discussed during hearings were not funded: jail medical technician, $34,091; chief jailer, $34,091; human resources employee, $25,181; and county attorney, $45,000.
After no raises for several years, “the council did give a 50-cent raise to full-time employees” at a January meeting. However, elected officials did not receive pay hikes because of the state statute that notes the salary of an elected official cannot change after Jan. 1.
At the suggestion of a council member, $5,000 was penciled in for the Batesville-based Safe Passage, the five-county domestic violence shelter, and it was funded, Brack said.
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
• The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance certified Franklin County's 2014 budget order and tax rates Jan. 31, paving the way for on-time property tax bills. The budget certification puts the county in a position to have taxes due May 10. The county was the 55th out of 92 in the state to receive its approved order, according to an IDLGF news release. • The first step in the assessment to tax billing process is the completion of the property assessments, which culminates with the submission of a ratio study. A ratio study is a comparison between property sales prices and assessed values in the county to ensure that market values are being used to determine assessed values. Typically, these should be submitted to the state and approved by May 31, the year prior to tax billing. Franklin County's ratio study was submitted April 26, 2013. • Once the IDLGF approves the ratio study, the assessor sends the gross assessed values to the county auditor, who applies exemptions, deductions or abatements to determine the net assessed values - the values upon which tax rates are based. That information was statutorily due to the IDLGF by Aug. 1, 2013. Franklin County's certified net assessed values were submitted Sept. 27, 2013. • The next steps are handled at the county level. The county auditor is to calculate tax bills, which the county treasurer should mail to taxpayers no later than April 25, said IDLGF spokesperson Jenny Banks. • A copy of the Franklin County budget is available at www.in.gov/dlgf/files/Franklin_County_2014_Budget_Order.pdf.