GREENCASTLE -- Unemployment claims are causing a conundrum for some Putnam County offices.
On Tuesday, Treasurer Sharon Owens came before the Putnam County Council to ask for additional funds to pay a claim for a former employee of her office. She said she had called state officials to get an answer, but hadn't received one.
"There is no money in my budget for unemployment," she said. "And while this person was technically employed in my office, they are really employed by the county."
Owens asked if the council had a line item in its budget for unemployment claims. Auditor Stephanie Campbell explained that several years ago the decision was made that each individual county department would be responsible for maintaining a fund within its own budget for unemployment.
Council member Nancy Fogle was dismayed that was the case.
"Common sense is that it should be in one central place and the human resources person should take care of it," she said.
Campbell agreed that was fine in theory, but pointed out that the county doesn't have a dedicated human resources person.
Councilman Mitch Proctor said the policy of each department being responsible for its own unemployment funds was put in place because "People need to be held accountable for their actions." He said the practice began many years ago after a year when turnover at the Putnam County Sheriff's department was significant.
"The unemployment we paid was staggering," he said. "But it hasn't really been an issue until now."
Campbell said that while most department heads had been good about making sure funds were put back for unemployment, many had become lax about doing so.
"I can't make a department put money into an account," she said.
Deputy Auditor Evelyn Owens said seven former county employees are currently drawing unemployment. The county's January unemployment bill, which is due at the end of March, was $5,695.
"We can't be late with these payments," Campbell said. "The penalties are really high."
Councilman Roger Deck moved that the county pay the January, February and March unemployment claims from the general fund. The measure passed unanimously.
The council also voted that each county department would be responsible for submitting an estimate to the council of what its unemployment expenses for the rest of the year would be. Campbell will request additional funding for the total amount from all departments.