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March 8, 2013

Clark County takes big budget hit

Officials work out a deal to hopefully bridge multimillion dollar gap

JEFFERSONVILLE — Mandates may again be required in Clark County in order for the government to pay its operational costs.

The Clark County Council and the Clark County Commissioners were able to reach an agreement after a lengthy discussion on how to bridge a substantial gap in the budget approved by the council and the $7.9 million budget returned by the state.

The council met in a special meeting Friday afternoon to try and figure out a way to answer the $7.9 million the Department of Local Government Finance approved in its 1782 notice.

However, Clark County Councilman Brian Lenfert said the $7.9 million budget passed is not an accurate picture of the county’s finances.

From the $16.4 million budget approved by the county council, the $7.9 million does not factor in $4.5 million of certified shares — also known as county adjusted gross income tax — that will be part of the county’s budget and $1.1 million remaining from last year’s budget. As a result, the county was left searching for about $3.5 million to cover in order to pay for operations.

Clark County Council President Barbara Hollis said one of the reasons there is such a huge difference is the Cumulative Bridge Fund rate was raised last year from $355,000 to $1.6 million.

“That has made a difference of $1.3 million in our shortfall ... because our levy is maxed out,” she said.

Another concern raised by the council were cuts made to the Clark County Health Department’s budget that total about $140,000. To help restore the health department’s budget, which was agreed to by the council, and help cover the remaining shortfall, the council asked the commissioners to return their cumulative bridge rate back to the previous year’s collection of about $350,000.

But the commissioners were unwilling to cut the cumulative bridge fund rate, citing the danger of bridges that are in need of repair — specifically pointing to a bridge on Utica Pike over Lancassange Creek.

“We’re not going to cut the bridge fund and we’re not going to take money out of the [cumulative capital] fund,” said Commissioner John Perkins, who arrived halfway through the meeting. “I’ll never agree to that knowing the condition of the bridges,” he said of cutting the bridge fund.

He added the estimated cost to repair or replace the bridge was $1.2 million.

Subsequently, the commissioners were asked if they would be willing to fund governmental operations by using its Cumulative Capital Development fund to pay for some operations.

Again, the commissioners were unwilling to relent.

“I do not want to take anything away from [cumulative capital],” said Clark County Commissioner Jack Coffman. “All you have to have is one more tornado, one more bad storm. I don’t want to take that chance for the residents of Clark County.”

Commissioner Rick Stephenson was not in attendance at the meeting, but according to the other commissioners, was contacted and was unwilling to lower the cumulative bridge rate.

“We’re trying to find some common ground,” said Councilwoman Susan Popp.

She made a plea to the commissioners to try and work out an agreement with the council as a revised plan is due back to the DLGF on Monday.

Lenfert added that if the commissioners were willing to cut the cumulative bridge rate in half, to $800,000, it would add the same amount back to the county general fund and the commissioners would still have $1.2 million for bridge repairs.

No resolution was reached after nearly three hours. Stephenson was contacted again and offered the compromise suggested to reduce the cumulative bridge rate in half. Stephenson and Coffman agreed to the arrangement. Perkins had left the meeting at the time of the agreement.

Cuts are likely to be made in the Clark County Sheriff’s Department and jail expenses because they are the county’s largest budgets.

“If we’re going to be doing mandates, I’d rather mandate $600,000 than $3.4 million,” Lenfert said earlier in the meeting.

The council unanimously agreed with a 6-0 vote to accept the compromise relating to the bridge funds and to send the revised budget back to the state for final approval. Councilman Kevin Vissing was absent from the meeting.

Despite the approval, the commissioners have the right to appeal the council’s decision to lower the cumulative bridge fund by $800,000.

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