By CHRIS MORRIS
NEW ALBANY —
Despite cutting selective services and supplies 25 percent across the board, the Floyd County Council is still $2.9 million short of hitting its 2014 budget which was approved Tuesday night. The budget will now be sent off to the Department of Local Government Finance for state approval.
However, the DLGF will likely send it back to the county in February and force the council, and officeholders, to cut $2.9 million more in order to balance the budget. Without raising taxes, that means layoffs are a real possibility.
But all may not be gloom and doom according to council President John Schellenberger and Floyd County Auditor Scott Clark. In the next few months both will look at ways to increase revenue, which may include selling property or other assets.
“We will continue to work on this budget and look for additional revenue between now and then,” Clark said. “Right now additional revenue is in the discussion mode.”
Schellenberger said the consensus on the council opposed a possible increase in the EDIT tax, and he said the county doesn’t qualify for a public works loan. He said several meetings have been held, and will continue to be held, to try and find additional revenue.
“We might have more money on hand and the deficit may be less [in a few months]. We will have a better picture in February and March,” Schellenberger said.
Council members say several factors contributed to the county winding up in a financial mess. Three David Camm murder trials cost the county more than $4 million [Camm was found not guilty of murdering his family in his third trial last week]; the William Clyde Gibson III murder trial cost around $400,000; and in 2012, members said they were given wrong figures from former Auditor Darin Cottington in the fall when preparing the 2013 budget, which led to a $2.4 million deficit. Cottington left office May 1.
Councilman Jim Wathan said after the budget was passed that all the council did Tuesday “was kick the can down the road.”
“This budget is going to come back and haunt us,” he said. “They are going to send it back to us so be ready. I don’t know where we are going to find $2.9 million this time. But by state law we have to find it.”
Cheryl Mills, a 31-year employee of the county, said Tuesday’s meeting was not the council’s “proudest moment.” She said many county employees are forced to work two jobs since they have not received a raise in several years, and should also be included in budget discussions since decisions may affect their employment.
“The morale of county employees is the lowest I have ever seen it in my 31 years there,” she said.
Schellenberger said employees have received longevity pay increases or bonuses three times in the six years he has been on the council. He also said due to negotiations, employee insurance will not increase.
The council also approved a hiring freeze last week covering basically any position that isn’t funded by grants with the exception of seasonal employees. However, it did approve a request from Floyd County Plan Commission President Callie Potts to hire a new building engineer in order to approve and issue building permits. Without someone in that position, all new construction is on hold, she said.
However, council Vice President Dana Fendley voted against the request. She said the services could be contracted out instead of hiring a new employee.
“You make a hiring freeze then the first person that walks up here you say yes [to hiring a new employee],” Fendley said.
Other council members, however, said without this position being filled, construction on the county stops.
“This hiring freeze needs to have exceptions,” said Councilman Brad Striegel. “Without this person we are encouraging people not to come to this county.”