Elkhart County officials faced with either huge cuts or higher taxes in 2015 budget season

Elkhart County leaders are looking at balancing a 2015 budget with a projected $4.6 million shortfall.

Posted on Aug. 12, 2014 at 8:06 a.m.

GOSHEN — Now that 2015 budget proposals have been submitted, Elkhart County government officials have until Oct. 1 to figure out how to cut the pie without leaving anyone hungry.

The task will be difficult — to say the least — as the county faces a $4.6 million shortfall next year, as estimated by Pauline Graff, county auditor.

Over the next month or so, the three-member Elkhart County Board of Commissioners will take a look at the numbers and write up their recommendations for the seven-member Elkhart County Council, who has the final say.

“I hope they can come up with some good creative cuts, because I don’t want to cut people and/or services,” Terry Rodino, president of the board of commissioners, said. “The current rainy day fund is low because we have no rainy day fund, and can’t take out of the EDIT fund.”

The EDIT fund was created in the late 1980s for use by the highway department, but it’s been used to balance the budget in recent years, according to John Letherman, county council president.

In 2015, the county plans to use the fund as it was originally intended.

One solution to the shortfall that’s being considered is an increase in the local income tax to help recoup funds lost to property tax caps put in place in 2008.

Mike Yoder, county commissioner, suggested several weeks ago that the increase, if passed, would likely total 0.5 percent.

However, Rodino said Monday, Aug. 11, the commissioners are currently recommending a 1.25 percent income tax increase, the maximum allowed under the taxing mechanism being considered.

(Read more about the proposed local option income tax here.)

“Every elected official is in favor of it, but nobody is saying what number,” Rodino said of the increase, highlighting officials’ ongoing reluctance to raise taxes.

At the monthly county council meeting Saturday, Aug. 9, Letherman expressed frustration at the current financial situation to meeting attendees.

“It’s a rock and a hard place. We don’t want to, we don’t even want to talk about any of this crap — but we have to,” Letherman said about increasing the income tax. “I know you don’t want any more taxes. None of us want to be involved in this at all, so I don’t know what else to do.”

Like the budget, the final word on an income tax hike rests on the shoulders of the Elkhart County Council.

“We don’t know what else to do, we don’t want to do this. We know you don’t want to do it. We understand that,” Letherman said.

Residents and county officials alike have suggested additional cuts to departments, but as Letherman pointed out Saturday, the majority of the budget pays for mandatory and essential services.

“About 78 percent is spent on the jail, sheriff, prosecutor, judges, courts, probation — the highway department is funded under a completely different set-up — the gas tax — we can’t mix the two,” he said.

Budget hearings will take place at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 16 and Sept. 17.

The first reading of the budget is at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 30. A public hearing for the 2015 budget will take place the same day at 4:30 p.m.

The second reading and adoption of the budget by the county council will happen at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 1.

For detailed budget information about all taxing units in Elkhart County, including budget figures, visit www.budgetnotices.in.gov


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