GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Council will be tasked this week with balancing a roughly $82 million budget, but leaders are not expecting much difficulty.
The council will begin a series of hearings Tuesday morning to set the county’s spending plan for 2013. County departments were asked to flatline their budget requests, meaning no increases for the upcoming year. For the most part, departments were able to comply, county auditor Pauline Graff said.
“Sometimes it’s the case that they didn’t budget enough in the past for a specific expense, like gas, so they’re adding it into the budget this year so they don’t have to come back for an additional appropriation,” she said.
Like many years, the council may have to tap into reserves to balance the budget. The county’s 2013 budget shortfall could be as much as $3 million, Graff said. The county has the option of using funds from other accounts to support the budget, including money from the county adjusted gross income tax, or CAGIT, and the county economic development income tax, or EDIT. But first, Graff said, the council will inspect individual department budgets to determine whether anything could be cut to reduce the dependency on reserves.
“For the 2012 budget, the council plugged in $2.6 million from EDIT and $800,000 from rainy day funds,” Graff said.
John Letherman, council president, said the waning number of inmates from the the Indiana Department of Corrections housed at the county jail could be a concern. The county receives a $35 daily payment for each DOC inmate at the local jail, and as of Thursday, there were 80 DOC inmates at the jail. The problem is, Letherman said, the county has based its budget on housing at least 150 DOC inmates.
“It’s going to put additional pressure on our correctional complex and the budget for the sheriff’s department and the correctional officers,” he said.
However, Letherman hopes extra CAGIT money the county received earlier this year will help relieve that pressure and avoid any serious cuts to the sheriff’s department’s budget.
But all things considered, Letherman is optimistic about the upcoming budget hearings. He attributes the success of balancing the county’s spending plan in a large part to the cooperation of the people who lead the county’s departments.
“The discipline that the department heads have been showing has allowed us to get through the past two or three years in pretty good shape,” he said. “I’m expecting the same thing to happen this year.”
Many of the county departments, Letherman said, would not be able to operate efficiently if they trim their budgets much more.
“Our goal is to work with them and try to give them the resources they need to do their jobs, but eliminate anything that would be redundant or could be cut and still allow them to function,” Letherman said.
Council vice president Dennis Sharkey also expects this week’s budget hearings to be easier than in years past.
“The budgets have come in, and I think the department heads have matched their requests with last year, and that’s what we asked them to do,” he said. “We asked them to hold the line, and the vast majority of the department heads were able to do that.”
Here is a schedule for the Elkhart County Council’s hearings and work sessions to develop the county’s 2013 budget.
All meetings will be held at the Elkhart County Administration Building, 117 N. Second St. in Goshen, room 104. The schedule is subject to change.
8:30 a.m. Tuesday: Department-by-department hearings start and last through 4:30 p.m., with breaks at 10 a.m., noon, 2:45 p.m. and 4 p.m.
8:30 a.m. Wednesday: Department hearings continue and last through 3 p.m., with breaks at 10 a.m., noon and 2:45 p.m.
8:30 a.m. Thursday: An all-day work session starts.
8:30 a.m. Friday: A second work session is scheduled, if needed.
1:30 p.m. Sept. 18: A third work session is scheduled, if needed.
8:30 a.m. Sept. 20: The council will review proposed civil taxing unit budgets. A public hearing will begin at 9 a.m., and a work session is scheduled, if needed.
8:30 a.m. Sept. 27: The council will have a first reading of the proposed budget.
8:30 a.m. Sept. 28: The council will have a second reading of the budget with plans to adopt the final spending plan.
A BREAKDOWN OF ELKHART COUNTY’S PROPOSED 2013 BUDGET
Department 2013 request
Sheriff’s Department $11.95M
County jail $6.56M
County commissioners $6.47M
Highway Department $6.02M
Courts, county clerk $3.99M
Prosecuting attorney $3.86M
Health Department $2.67M
Parks Department $1.31M
General fund, total $40.32M
* — Includes spending from the general fund, the county’s largest, and its miscellaneous funds