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Council offers praise for 2007 budget

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

After two full days of deliberations and crunching the numbers, members of the Putnam County Council went home Tuesday afternoon feeling good about next year's budget.

"Last year we went out of here on pins and needles," Council Vice President Darrel Thomas told the BannerGraphic at the conclusion of this week's budget hearings. "This year is certainly more positive."

The state has set the maximum amount of money the county can collect through property taxes next year -- known as the maximum levy -- at $3,991,266, approximately $150,000 more than last year.

Proposed expenses prior to this week's budget hearings stood at $4,223,747, meaning the Council had to cut $232,481.

Council members are praising the fact that they were able to trim more than the required amount from the budget this week and still manage to at least partially meet requests for additional personnel in county offices and give county employees a long-awaited raise.

"I'm proud of what the Council has done in the last two days," Council President Mitch Proctor said after Tuesday's budget session. "I hope that when the office holders see this they will say, 'good job.'"

But with the praise came a warning that the county auditor still has to review the changes that were suggested by the Council and formulate a revised budget. Changes could be made prior to council members voting on the final budget adoption Sept. 8.

Going into this week's budget hearings, council members were looking at close to $152,000 in total requested raises -- or 5 percent across the board -- for county workers.

What they decided on is a 3-percent raise for a majority of workers with the exception of a few departments that requested slightly higher increases.

Those departments receiving higher increases included, but were not limited to, the sheriff's department at 6 percent, 911 dispatch center at 5 percent and the county highway department where each employee was granted a flat $1,500 raise.

Council members said they felt more inclined to give slightly higher raises to workers in those departments given the nature of their jobs.

They reasoned that sheriff's deputies and highway workers can be called out at all hours of the day and night and dispatchers are on duty 24 hours a day.

When the calculations were completed, council members figured they saved approximately $80,000 in next year's budget just by decreasing the requested raises from 5 percent to 3 percent. It has been two years since county employees have received a raise of any kind.

Another way council members were able to cut funding came in the area of full-time and part-time employees for county offices.

Several departments, including superior court, circuit court, real estate, county extension office, health department and the Greencastle Township assessor's office had requested additional full-time staff.

New full-time salaries would have added approximately $120,000 to next year's budget, so council members decided rather than deny the requests completely, it would be better to at least grant part-time positions for those offices.

Other departments requested part-time staff positions and they were also granted by the Council.

Lowering raises from 5 percent to 3 percent and granting part-time versus full-time positions were the two areas that comprised a majority of the savings for the Council.

A laundry list of smaller reductions was also approved to include $10,000 taken from adult probation, $4,000 from the assessor's budget, $5,000 from the prosecutor's budget, $32,000 from the real estate department, and $25,000 from insurance benefits for the commissioners and health department.

Other cuts made during the 2006 budget cycle -- mainly those contained within the county commissioner's budget -- were not reinstated for 2007.

Those cuts include $14,620 from Putnam County Comprehensive Services, $23,555 from the 4-H fairgrounds, $10,478 from fair premiums, $48,735 from the animal shelter, and $23,149 from the Putnam County Senior Center.

vBy the end of the two days of meetings, council members agreed that despite this year's cuts, the situation is far better than the $800,000 that was cut the previous year and more than $1 million the year before that.

"It's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction," Thomas said.

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