County to adopt $38M budget today

The county is set to adopt a more than $38.3 million spending plan today that includes hefty raises for the county commissioners, and more correction officers at the now-expanded county jail.

The county expects to spend about $38.3 million next year, a 2.4% increase over this year’s budget. About the same amount of revenue is expected, which is a 2.5% decrease from this year, according to county documents.

The decreased revenue in next year’s budget was expected due to changes to income tax disbursements last year, said Mike Reuter, a financial consultant for the county.

The change to income tax disbursements is due to state officials delaying income tax payment dates during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. For this year, counties were given 14 months of tax revenue, but next year, counties will receive 10 months of disbursements. It should return to normal in 2023.

Last year, the county approved a $38.8 million budget, and expected about $40 million in revenue this year. The main focus of this year’s budget was raises for county workers. The county gave full-time employees whose pay fell below an internal midpoint — the median salary for all county employees with similar jobs — an increase to the midpoint or a one-time $750 raise. Employees above the internal midpoint received just the $750.

If next year’s budget is approved, county employees will receive, at minimum, a 4% raise. Some departments requested more than 4% increases, but the council decided which departments got what, council member Ron Deer said.

Truck drivers for the county highway department will receive a 4.7% raise, and public health nurses at the county health department will receive a 5.2% raise.

The biggest of the raises will go to the county commissioners, who will each receive a 23.5% raise, and will make roughly $36,000 a year before taxes, 14.2% more than what the three-member board had requested, county documents show.

Next year’s budget includes changes to funding for the Johnson County jail, which is in the final stages of a $23.1 million expansion project that is expected to be completed this month. The expansion, including additional staff, is being paid for with a 20-year local income tax increase that was approved in June 2019. The local income tax was raised to 1.2% from 1% and impacts all workers who live in Johnson County, regardless of what county they work in.

This year, the jail had a $6.2 million budget. Next year, it will have a $5.7 million budget. About $1.5 million will be pulled from the fund that collects revenue from the tax increase, a separate fund for the jail’s food, hospital and medical expenses, according to county documents.

Burgess also asked to hire 10 more correction officers, bringing the total to 80, which will likely be approved.

Initially, next year’s budget was out of balance by nearly $1.3 million, Reuter said. Changes were made to the soon-to-be adopted budget that made the budget nearly break even, according to county documents.

During multiple budget hearings last month, Johnson County Animal Control asked to increase pay for its part-time staff to $18 an hour, a $6-an-hour increase from where it is now. After heavy discussion, the Johnson County Council and animal control director Michael Delp reached a compromise, raising the maximum pay to $15 an hour.

“(The council has) a most difficult, if not at times incredibly stressful, job to do, and it would be impossible for them to accede to every department’s request,” Delp said.

The $15-an-hour pay is a great start for animal control, and will allow the department to be more aggressive and competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining part-time staff. The county council has always worked with the department to make sure animal control has the best equipped and prepared facility possible, he said.

The county surveyor and drainage board also requested a larger budget then they received. County surveyor Gregg Cantwell asked for more than $181,000 for the Surveyor’s Office’s joint fund with the county drainage board, but will receive about $96,500, county documents show.

The other $84,500 the surveyor’s office requested would have covered two new positions, an assessment analyst and GIS analyst.

The county needs to update its watershed and drainage maps, Cantwell said. The county has 52 watersheds, made up of creeks, ditches, drains and tiles, which is a drainage system that removes excess water from soil below its surface.

The last time the watershed and drainage were mapped out was during the 1980s, and the county has been using the same maps since then, he said.

“(In the 1980s) they established a regular assessment to maintain the waterways,” Cantwell said. “Fast forward 40 years, if you’re traveling from Franklin to Indianapolis on I-65, you are a firsthand witness that the county has moved from farms to residential/industrial, yet those creeks and ditches that were built for farming years ago have been unaddressed.”

It is absurd to think the creeks and ditches that were built for farming can handle the development throughout the county today, he said.

The request for additional funding was an attempt to get the county in a position to address those issues by remapping the waterways and bringing them into the 21st century. Instead, the county kicked the can down the road, Cantwell said.

“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to have a problem, but when. The county is growing daily, and the problem is as well,” he said.

The council has a hard job, and did what they thought was best due to the need to trim due to the expected decrease in revenues, Cantwell said.

“They all have an interest in getting it right and working for a solution,” he said.

The county’s tax base is also expected to grow by about 10% next year, excluding tax increment financing, or TIF, districts, Reuter said.

The council is set to adopt the budget at 5 p.m. today in the Johnson County Courthouse West Annex Auditorium, 86 West Court Street, Franklin.