Clark County’s budget woes aren’t going away until Indianapolis steps in, officials said at a budget meeting Wednesday.
The Clark County Commissioners and county council met to review financial information and projections provided by county-contracted accountant Jill Oca and to discuss potential solutions. But after all was said and done, deliberately underfunding essential departments to force court-mandated tax rates outside of the general fund levy was considered the only viable solution to solve the county’s budget problems.
“I don’t think we have any choice,” said Commissioners President Jack Coffman. “The departments are going to have to mandate unless the legislature comes up with a solution.”
County department budgets have been cut as much as possible, and Coffman didn’t see any way to make further cuts that would allow the county to operate within the budget levy permitted by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, he said.
“You just look at individual departments, they’re working slim as it is,” Coffman said. “... I can’t see us reducing spending enough to make a dent in it.”
Clark County’s total budget shortfall for 2014 is about $7 million, according to Oca. That includes about $6.2 million in the general fund, about $340,000 needed to service bonds and another approximately $230,000 to operate.
Oca said the amount the sheriff’s department will demand in mediation with the county council is about $5.7 million, but that still leaves as much as $1.3 million that needs to be made up. Oca cautioned that the $1.3 million figure is probably higher than the actual shortfall, because some departments might not spend every dollar they’ve been appropriated, and because there are some miscellaneous revenue sources that could positively impact the budget, like sheriff’s sales.
“It’s difficult to say [what the actual shortfall is],” Oca said. “Those are the only numbers I can give you with any estimation right now.”
Mandates will continue until the Statehouse permits Clark County to increase its budget levy, said Commissioner John Perkins.
“Government has to operate. We need the revenue,” Perkins said. “Cuts have been made. We’ve cut everything we can. It’s not really a spending problem, it’s a revenue problem.”
Commissioner Rick Stephenson said that there’s no appetite in the legislature to increase Clark County’s budget levy, but said there is possibly legislation coming that would allow a county to increase its levy if it relies on mandates in two consecutive years.
Stephenson and County Councilwoman Kelly Khuri agreed that tax-increment financing districts in municipalities like Clarksville and Jeffersonville are contributing to the county’s budget woes by capturing revenue that the county would otherwise be able to collect. Stephenson said that while recent legislation will help control the spending of TIF dollars, he would like to see local TIF districts given more scrutiny by the state.
Khuri asked about funds that could be due to the county from revenues collected by the River Ridge Development Authority, but County Council Attorney Scott Lewis pointed out that the county is only eligible to receive “excess funds” from River Ridge, which are distributed at the discretion of River Ridge officials.
Clark County has the 89th lowest levy per capita in the state, according to statistics compiled by Indiana Farm Bureau. The county’s tax rate is the 10th lowest in the state.