News and Tribune

March 26, 2014

Record year for mandates coming in Clark County

Commissioners searching for answers to $800,000 shortfall

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Clark County’s fiscal woes are only set to get worse in 2014.

The county commissioners say they’re looking for ways to patch an $800,000 shortfall in their budget, and Sheriff Danny Rodden has filed a lawsuit against the county council that could cost taxpayers as much as $6 million to cover shortfalls in his budget. Rodden couldn’t say the exact amount he’s suing for.

“I’m not sure what that number’s going to be because of different factors that might happen between now and the end of the year,” Rodden said.

The sheriff’s office will conduct some auctions that will generate some revenue for the department, but Rodden wasn’t willing to speculate on how much those auctions might raise.

Rodden said he filed the lawsuit in Clark County Circuit Court No. 4, and that Judge Vicki Carmichael has set the matter for mediation. A date for the mediation has not been set, Rodden said.

If Rodden wins in mediation against the county, the mandated tax rate to pay for the judgment bonds the county would have to issue would likely be the largest in county history.

In 2011, tax rates outside of the county’s budget levy were imposed to collect $2 million for the courts and $1.2 million for the sheriff’s department to cover budget shortfalls. Another tax rate to collect $2.855 million for the sheriff’s office was mandated in 2013.

A property tax rate of about $150 per $100,000 assessed valuation would be needed to raise $6 million. Mandated tax rates are limited by circuit breaker tax caps, and would affect up to 50 percent of the county.

COMMISSIONERS SCRAMBLING

The commissioners are struggling to find $800,000 in its budget, and held a budget workshop Tuesday to discuss the problem.

“Right now, we don’t have an answer ourselves for how we can come up with our [shortfall],” Commissioners President Jack Coffman said. “That’s something we’ll have to work out with the county council. So at some point in the future, we’re looking at having a workshop set up with the county council.”

The bulk of the shortfall is in group health insurance, Coffman said, and includes a shortage of about $50,000 to contract services.

Last year, the commissioners authorized the transfer of $800,000 from its cumulative bridge fund, which is outside of the county’s general fund levy, to the rainy day fund so that the money could be used to pay for health insurance, but Coffman said that would not happen this year.

“[Cumulative] bridge is not an option like it was last year because we have some projects that we just cannot [cut] due to our results from bridge inspections,” Coffman said. “We have some bridge [projects] that we just simply cannot delay anymore.”

OTHER MANDATES?

The sheriff’s lawsuit against the county may not be the only source of court-mandated tax rates. Commissioner John Perkins suggests that the only way to free up funds within the commissioners budget may be to force other departments to sue for mandates.

Perkins said that cutting a line item in the commissioners’ budget to fund a capital murder trial in Carmichael’s court scheduled for this year could free up $250,000.

“We could take part or all of that $250,000 and spend it elsewhere,” Perkins said.

He also suggested zeroing out the building authority’s budget, which would free up $985,000. In each instance, a lawsuit filed by the affected department could result in a mandated tax rate.

Perkins said that the county’s approved general fund budget levy is simply too small for a county of this size and population, which is why the problem keeps arising.

“You keep coming back to that same thing,” Perkins said. “There is just not enough money to do what needs to be done.”