By MATT KOESTERS
If the issues with Clark County’s budget are to get better, they’re certainly going to get worse first. And getting better? That’s a big “if.”
The Clark County Council and County Commissioners Jack Coffman and John Perkins discussed the issues at the council’s Monday meeting. With a $193,000 premium payment for property, casualty and workers’ compensation insurance looming, the commissioners unable to guarantee that they’ll pay the bill out of the county’s cumulative capital fund and the general fund in the red, the council decided to form a committee to explore its options at the suggestion of Councilwoman Susan Popp.
According to Perkins, the county is facing an end-of-year shortfall of approximately $4.6 million, with $2.6 million needed by the sheriff’s department for operation of the county jail and another $2 million cut from the commissioners’ budget.
“If we have no money, we cannot pay the premium,” said Perkins, “and we’re not going to pay the premium out of [cumulative capital].”
“I hate being a naysayer, but the money’s just not there,” added Coffman.
Coffman agreed to join Popp’s committee, as did Council President Barbara Hollis. The committee meeting will be held Monday. As there will be insufficient officials present to form a quorum, the meeting will not be advertised.
Popp said it’s likely that a special meeting of the council will be necessary after the committee reaches conclusions on how to temporarily bridge the budget gap.
Sheriff Danny Rodden is expected by the council to file suit against the county for underfunding his department to force a mandated tax rate. Councilman Kevin Vissing asked if it would be possible for Rodden to voluntarily reduce his department’s budget, thus replenishing the general fund. Vissing said the commissioners could then declare an emergency and pay the premium out of the capital fund, and the council would reimburse the commissioners with the funds taken from the sheriff.
But Council Vice President Brian Lenfert pointed out that any mandate would be decided by a judge, and that the council could not make promises when a judge would be making the decision. County Council Attorney Scott Lewis added that discussing a potential lawsuit is improper because the discussion in a public meeting could affect the outcome of the case.
The council is also looking for relief from the state. As the county has been awaiting a ruling from a case between Clark County and the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance in Indiana Tax Court since February 2012, the council voted unanimously to authorize sending a letter to Statehouse legislators from Clark County asking that they support the DLGF and Clark County entering mediation to discuss restoring the county’s levy to its 2007 level.
The county had asked the DLGF for a levy increase in 2010, which the DLGF denied. The county appealed in 2011.
“This is going to go on ad infinitum until the levy is where it needs to be,” Perkins said.
The council unanimously approved an emergency appropriation from the cumulative capital fund for the third-quarter payment of workers’ compensation and general liability premiums that the commissioners approved April 28.
The commissioners vowed at that meeting not to take similar action again.
The council also approved additional appropriations from cumulative capital for contract services provided by accountant Jill Oca and Tidal Basin, both of whom were contracted to work on getting reimbursements for emergency spending stemming from the March 2012 tornadoes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Oca’s bill was $6,000, while Tidal Basin’s fee was $75,000, with a separate bill of $56,000 paid out of the tornado emergency fund.
Lenfert asked Perkins if the commissioners were happy with Tidal Basin’s work. Perkins said no, and that if he could go back and do it again, he would not hire Tidal Basin, as Oca and River Hills Executive Director Jill Saegesser did “95 percent of the work.”
The council also approved a $15,000 additional appropriation from the landowners liability fund to pay American Legal Publishing for codifying ordinances.