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Major cuts likely for Crawford government


First set of approved recommendations shore up county government by $440,000


March 05, 2008
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners and County Council, after reviewing recommendations from a five-member committee, Thursday evening implemented several changes that will reduce the county's expected $500,000 shortfall by $440,000 while taking several others under advisement.

Bill Byrd, a Milltown resident who chaired the bi-partisan committee that was appointed by the commissioners and council and also included Circuit Judge K. Lynn Lopp, District 1 Commissioner Larry Bye and county councilmen Daniel Crecelius and Joey Robinson, said he believes the group has met its charge of shoring up the budget.

"We believe we have found ways that adversely affect the least number of people and still accomplish our goals," he said, pointing to two sets of recommendations.

The first group of recommendations, totaling $440,000, didn't include reductions in personnel, but their immediate adoption was considered imperative to keeping the county's finances in the black.

The recommendations were to:

•Withdraw $250,000 of riverboat gaming money the county shares with the Crawford County Community School Corp. for debt service reduction.

•Withhold 10 percent — $40,000 — of the allocation of riverboat gaming money the county shares with the incorporated towns and volunteer fire departments.

•Withhold the $50,000 of riverboat gaming money the county shares with the Crawford County Highway Department.) These dollars are not the same gaming funds given to the highway department for road maintenance.

•Make an allocation of $100,000 from Orange County gaming funds the county receives to the county budget.

Mike Benham, president of the English Town Council and assistant chief of the English Volunteer Fire Department, said the money the county gives the towns and fire departments is extremely beneficial.

That's especially true for the EVFD, whose volume of calls from Crawford County Dispatch has risen substantially in recent years, Benham said, noting the department has made 50 runs so far this year and it's not even into its traditionally busy season.

He said those gaming dollars help with fuel costs and replacement of equipment that wears out sooner because of the extra runs.

Benham said that as a taxpayer he was also concerned with the county reducing the gaming dollars it gives the Crawford County Community School Corp. for debt service reduction.

Dr. Mark Eastridge, superintendent of the school corporation, earlier in the meeting indicated the corporation would have to increase its debt service tax rate to make up for such a cut, since those dollars have been used to repay loans on the elementary school renovation project from a decade ago.

While thanking the county for the approximately $4 million in gaming dollars it has given the school corporation over the years, Eastridge said the increase would be about 9 cents on the tax rate.

The commissioners first voted 3-0 to accept this part of the committee's recommendations as presented, but then amended their vote to reflect that of the council after the council voted 7-0 to accept the recommendations with a change.

The council accepted all of the recommendations as submitted except for the one to cut the gaming revenue shared with the towns and volunteer fire departments by 10 percent. It chose instead to transfer another $40,000 of the Orange County gaming revenue into the county budget.

While the votes taken only reduce the money given to the school corporation for 2008, funding in future years may also be in jeopardy.

Bye, in an interview the next day said he didn't think the cut in gaming revenue would necessarily hurt taxpayers, explaining he questions whether that money has been used for its intended purpose.

"I don't feel like all that money has been used for debt," he said.

Documentation provided by the school corporation on Monday disputed that.

It shows the corporation has received $4.2 million in gaming revenue from the county since June 1999. Through December 2005, it deposited $3.2 million into the corporation's Debt Service account. In 2006, it began depositing gaming revenue into a Riverboat Gaming account to better track the funds. Of the $1 million deposited into that interest-bearing account, $615,769 has been transferred to the Debt Service account, while approximately $95,000 has been used, with the county council's permission, on security upgrades and full-time kindergarten.

In 2005, the council voted to allow the school corporation to use $250,000 of the gaming revenue per year for 2005, 2006 and 2007 for full-time kindergarten. The council later voted to allow the corporation to use some of that $250,000 for security upgrades. To date, the corporation has spent $54,977 on full-time kindergarten and $40,497 on security.

The corporation's Riverboat Gaming account, which has accrued $28,714 in interest, has a balance of $443,570. Eastridge on Monday said that once the corporation's budget is approved by the state, that money will be transferred to the Debt Service account.

Bye on Friday said that if the school corporation's debt service rate has to be increased, he believes the school can make cuts in other areas to offset that increase. He explained that the committee is recommending that the sacrifice be shared by all entities receiving county funds, and that includes the school corporation.

That was evident in the committee's second set of recommendations, which were highlighted by spending reductions within various county offices that realistically can only be achieved by cuts in personnel. Many of those cuts were for $30,000 or $60,000, which would mean a reduction in staff of one to two employees.

Byrd said the committee compared Crawford County to four other counties that are comparable in population — Martin, Pike, Union and Warren — and found that many Crawford County government offices were overstaffed.

If positions are eliminated, the elected official in each office, not the commissioners or the council, will determine which employees are let go.

To assist offices during busy times, the committee recommended using a "floater" that is cross-trained and can work in various offices.

Recorder Tammy Procter questioned who would determine how the floater is used. She also noted that several offices are often much busier at the same time, especially during tax season.

Sheriff Tim Wilkerson said his office would do what it could to help, but he questioned the committee's recommendation that he cut $50,000 from his budget, in light of his department bringing in significant revenue to the county's General Fund by housing Indiana Department of Correction inmates.

"I've worked hard since I've been in office to get some money for the county," he said, noting that so far this year, the county has billed the IDOC $268,590.

Wilkerson said the county, which is currently housing 50 IDOC prisoners, is paid $35 per inmate per day and makes $24.36 after expenses. He said he anticipates the county clearing some $500,000 in 2008.

Crecelius said much of that money will need to be used to pay start-up costs for the jail, which opened in 2004.

"Right now, we're really just recouping" what was paid out, he said.

Crecelius, in an interview the next day, explained that while training, which was provided by Harrison County, was free, the new, larger facility has extra expenses, including additional personnel, such as jailers and cooks. Plus, the county is still paying for the jail and courthouse complex, he said.

At Thursday night's meeting, the committee said Crawford County's jail budget was higher than the average of the four counties to which it compared Crawford. Wilkerson said it may not be fair to compare the Crawford facility to those, because their inmate populations may vary.

Some of the other recommendations by the committee include:

•Not filling employee vacancies without the approval of the commissioners and the council authorizing the funding;

•Establishing a Crisis Fund with 10 percent of the Orange County gaming revenue, whereby only the interest can be used except in emergencies;

•Requiring the Crawford County Soil and Water Conservation District contribute funds for operations costs; and

•Requiring all entities receiving gaming revenue from the county to report to the commissioners how those funds are spent.

The committee also recommended to do away with compensation time for the Emergency Services, Dispatch, Jail and Sheriff's departments and pay employees an overtime wage of 1-1/2 their regular rate.

While the council and commissioners, who later reviewed each recommendation one by one in separate meetings, seemed to favor several of the recommendations, there were a few that they didn't.

The committee recommended temporarily suspending or permanently eliminating the economic development director's position, pointing to no major businesses having located to the county in years.

The council and the commissioners, however, after hearing from Economic Development Director Don DuBois point to the office's successes, including Broadband Internet and cellular phone towers and the Pilot gas and food mart at Carefree, and the county's need to have a voice in the economic community, disagreed with the committee.

The council and commissioners also disagreed with the committee's recommendation to suspend longevity payments to county employees for 2008, noting that would essentially be a decrease in pay for the employees who must work harder if other positions are eliminated.

Other recommendations, such as eliminating county-funded vision and life insurance and increasing the employee contribution for health insurance from 13-1/2 percent to 15 percent, also appear likely not to be adopted.

The committee is to meet this week and finalize its recommendations based on input from the council and commissioners. A final report will be issued to both groups, with the council expected to take action at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. on March 11 and the commissioners likely to vote on the recommendations at a special meeting at 4 p.m. on March 13. Both meetings will be at the Crawford County Judicial Complex at English.

Both Crecelius and Bye the next day said while they don't relish serving on the committee, they believe the group worked hard to make recommendations that will help get and keep the county in good financial shape.

"I guess in a bad situation it went as well as it could," Crecelius said.

He said the county got in bad financial trouble, in part, because of the lag time between increased jail costs and when it would receive significant revenue from housing IDOC inmates and the delay in property tax revenue last year.

Crecelius said the jail revenue will help, but the county must prepare for bad times in the future, particularly if the state shifts more financial burden to local governments and if Indiana's riverboat gaming industry is hurt by Kentucky allowing casinos, and, therefore, must have a more efficient government. While the committee doesn't want anyone to lose their job, it must look at ways to save taxpayers money, he said.

"I feel sorry for the folks, because it is very devastating to lose your jobs," he said.

The Committee's Recommendations

A five-person committee — Milltown resident Bill Byrd, District 1 Commissioner Larry Bye, Circuit Judge K. Lynn Lopp and county councilman Daniel Crecelius and Joey Robinson — appointed to find ways to offset Crawford County's estimated $500,000 shortfall for 2008 presented several recommendations Thursday.

The committee recommended the following actions be taken immediately:

•Withdraw $250,000 of riverboat gaming money the county shares with the Crawford County Community School Corp. for debt service reduction.

•Withhold 10 percent — $40,000 — of the allocation of riverboat gaming money the county shares with the incorporated towns and volunteer fire departments.

•Withhold the $50,000 of riverboat gaming money the county shares with the Crawford County Highway Department.) These dollars are not the same gaming funds given to the highway department for road maintenance.

•Make an allocation of $100,000 from Orange County gaming funds the county receives to the county budget.

The committee also recommended several other actions. These included:

•Employee vacancies will not be filled without express approval of the commissioners and funding by the council. Elected officials must furnish valid reasons why the vacancy cannot be filled with a part-time or temporary employee.

•No personnel terminations resulting from this review until Aug. 1, 2008.

•Suspend employee longevity payments for 2008.

•Study networking computers.

•Raise the employee contribution for health insurance from 13-1/2 percent to 15 percent. Any employee whose spouse is eligible for insurance coverage under their employer's program would not be eligible for Crawford County coverage.

•Establish a Crisis Fund using 10 percent a year from Orange County gaming funds. The interest return could be used, but the principal should not be touched unless a real crisis arises. If this happens, the fund level should be restored as soon as possible. Any distribution is to be recommended by the commissioners and approved by the council.

•Eliminate vision coverage and life insurance as a county-funded benefit.

•Commissary and other funds collected and disbursed inside the courthouse to be channeled through the Auditor's Office for record keeping.

•Compensation time for the Emergency Services, Dispatch, Jail and Sheriff's departments to be immediately eliminated and accumulated time paid by the end of 2008. Management will be held accountable to maintain adequate staff to satisfy the requirements of the department. Each department is to prepare an overtime report each month for the commissioners' review.

•Consolidate equipment maintenance contracts and other purchases. This is to be the responsibility of one person.

•Do not permit departments to have unreported funds.

•To better serve the public, have the courthouse offices open on Columbus Day and Presidents Day, effective 2009, and instead give employees two days off that they may take at another time.

•Consider requiring the Crawford County Soil and Water Conservation District contribute funds for operations costs.

•Require the Ambulance Service, Highway Department, towns, fire departments and Crawford County Community School Corporation report to the commissioners how they have spent the riverboat gaming dollars the county has shared with them.

•Have select prisoners and possibly community service workers perform duties at the Crawford County Judicial Complex, such as outside cosmetics, inside cleaning and other maintenance that is secure and falls within their abilities.

•Consider temporarily suspending or permanently eliminating the county economic development office.

•Consider bidding for fuel for the Ambulance Service, or possibly having fuel tanks on site.

•Consider hiring a full-time director for the Ambulance Service or contracting the service.

•Have Harrison County pay 20 percent of the salary of a SWCD employee who spends one day a week at the Harrison County office.

•Develop protocols within the Dispatch Office to reduce unnecessary runs by volunteer fire departments, the Sheriff's Department, the Ambulance Service, etc.

•Review the benefits of the Veterans Officer.

•Use a "floater" employee in the courthouse between departments during high volume times.

•Combine the Emergency Management Agency with the Dispatch Office.

The committee recommended spending reductions in the following offices:

•Jail and Sheriff, $50,000.

•Assessor, $30,000.

•Auditor, $60,000.

•Clerk, $30,000.

•Cooperative Extension, $5,000.

•Circuit Court and Probation, $30,000.

•Prosecuting Attorney, $6,000.

•Recorder, $30,000.

•Health Department, $22,000.

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