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State cut leaves highway underfunded

Commissioners to meet in special session Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss impact of $165,000 2009 budget reduction

August 19, 2009
The Crawford County Highway Department received potentially devastating financial news last week, when the state, in an e-mail to the auditor notifying it that the county's 2009 budget has been unofficially approved, said it will receive about $165,000 less this year than expected.

Larry Bye, president of the board of county commissioners, upon learning the news last Tuesday evening, immediately came to the county council meeting, already in progress at the judicial complex in English.

"The problem is we have approximately $311,000 remaining in our budget for the rest of the year" and employee salaries and benefits obligations total "$375,000. So, we're $64,000 short," Bye said.

The highway department, unlike the General Fund, is not supported by local property tax revenue. Instead, it is funded by the state fuel tax and is distributed based on a formula that many say is inequitable to counties like Crawford with a high percentage of pickup trucks.

The county already was looking at having to cut $800,000 from the 2010 budget, Bye said.

"It's just not Crawford County; it's statewide," he said. "I don't know what the solution is."

Bye, who explained expenses have increased in recent years, said the department, which has 23 employees, isn't overstaffed, and lay-offs would result in a reduction of services, including slower response times in clearing and repairing roads after heavy rains and snow.

Riverboat gaming revenue received by the county cannot be used to pay salaries, but the council discussed using some of those dollars to fund other highway department expenses, freeing up the existing money for salaries.

The council did go ahead and approve using $20,000 of Orange County gaming revenue to pay outstanding bills. The commissioners also must approve using the money.

Some members of the council said that while it is not the reason for the major shortfall, spending appears to be out of control at the highway department and there needs to be accountability.

"I think somebody needs to be responsible and needs to bring us a monthly report," Councilman Bill Breeding said.

The commissioners and council may be able to put a bandage on the financial situation for this year, but the problem still will be there come 2010, Jerry Brewer, president of the council, said.

"Give us a plan next meeting," Brewer told Bye.

The commissioners will meet in special session tomorrow (Thursday) at 5:30 p.m. at the judicial complex to discuss the situation.

In other business, the council:

•Approved a request from Crawford County Deputy Sheriff Shawn Scott to sign an application for a $3,000 grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute for the Click It or Ticket program.

The grant, which the council approved last year, does not require any matching funds from the county.

•Approved an additional appropriation of $2,000 to the Park Fund for mowing at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park south of Marengo and Hiland Overlook Park near English. The parks department, due to the unusually wet summer, has exhausted its mowing budget.

•Announced the dates of meetings regarding the 2010 county budget. The council will conduct a budget workshop with officeholders at 9 a.m. on Aug. 25; it will follow a regular council meeting at 8 a.m. The annual budget hearing will be Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m., and the budget adoption meeting will be Sept. 22 at 8:30 a.m. All of the meetings will be at the judicial complex.

•Approved advertised additional appropriation and transfers.

•Approved a resolution to transfer the remaining balance of the Family and Children Fund — $101,052 — and the Children's Psychiatric Residential Treatment Services Fund —$7,143 — from the Levy Excess Fund to the County Rainy Day Fund. The transfer is allowed under state law since the state has taken over funding for those services.

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