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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

County Council holds decisions until budget approval

Friday, February 24, 2012

Running a county on a shoestring budget is difficult, but running a county with no budget is next to impossible.

As the county's fiscal body, the Putnam County Council is finding it difficult to make any decisions with the 2012 budget still not approved by the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF).

The situation left the council unable to officially act on two issues before it this week, tentatively and conditionally approving a request by the Sheriff's Department and tabling a request by the County Highway.

The Sheriff's Department is seeking the reinstatement of an investigator position cut from last year's budget. The position was just created last year, transferring money from a jail commander position that was no longer needed to the merit deputy side.

The new investigator will work primarily on abuse cases and sex crimes to alleviate the load on the department's two detectives.

At the January meeting, Sheriff Steve Fenwick said the department has trouble manning these cases, as the detectives are tied up elsewhere, and road deputies stay busy with 911 calls and traffic duties.

Representatives of the Department of Child Services and Family Support Services also spoke to the council about the need, saying that rape and sexual assault cases are on the rise.

Additionally, in child safety cases, time is of the essence, as face-to-face contact with the child is to be established within an hour of any call.

Understanding the need, council members expressed their desire to approve the position, but their misgivings with no budget.

If the budget comes back smaller than expected, the question will be where to find the $30,000 price tag.

"Until our budget's approved, we're tied," Councilman Roger Deck said. "We don't have any money."

Council president Darrel Thomas also expressed his apprehension at approving the position only to have to take it away.

"This move involves people. If we have to go in and undo this, that's going to affect these people," Thomas said.

Fenwick said they already have a jail officer tabbed for the position, so if the job were cut, he would still have a job back in the jail.

The question then turned to how to approve the position with no budget.

"To me, it's a matter of timing, not whether I approve of it or not," Councilman Phil Gick said.

The council settled on tentatively approving reinstatement of the position, contingent upon the approved budget from the state being at or above the requested level.

Jay Fogle made the motion, with Deck seconding. The move passed unanimously.

The County Highway's request is a bit trickier, not in the least because it involves a much larger sum of money -- $1.65 million.

The department presented a list of projects it hopes to complete with the additional money, including 14 chip and seal projects and seven blacktopping projects covering 33 miles of county road.

Among those in attendance at the meeting were residents of County Road 900 East in Marion Township. They told of motorists driving through their yards to avoid potholes and of school buses coming to complete stops to minimize the effect of the deep holes.

At this point, the road, like many in the county, is in a condition somewhere between blacktop and gravel, with neither surface being in good shape.

Until the budget is approved, no action can be taken on such a sum of money, but councilors will continue to monitor the situation to see what can be done.

The council will look into the possibility of raising more money for county roads through an increased wheel tax, as was suggested by one resident at the meeting. Deck will report back to the board about the possibility next month.

Fogle expressed his appreciation at what the Sheriff's Department and County Highway do, saying it is some of the county's most important work -- providing for public safety and the community's infrastructure. He added, though, that they are also the biggest part of the county's budget.

"The two things we worry about most are law enforcement and roads. The problem is, if the budget is reduced, we have nowhere else to cut," Fogle said.

Auditor Stephanie Campbell reported she has spoken to representatives of the DLGF, who are in the process of working on the budget. However, no timetable for its approval is available.

One small piece of good news for the county's bottom line came from Treasurer Sharon Owens. She said she monitors interest rates and keeps the county's money in savings accounts and certificates of deposit with local banks in order to earn interest.

During 2011, the county earned $62,275 in interest from savings and CDs. While it isn't a large amount in the grand scheme of the county budget, it is a gain.

"That's great," Councilman Keith Berry said. "Thank you very much."

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