County council OKs 2018 budget

Jackson County Council members recently adopted the 2018 budget that includes a 2 percent raise for most county employees.

They also managed to bring the general fund portion of that budget to below the $12,431,259 in anticipated revenues at $12,277,780.

If the budget is approved by the state during the budget hearings later this fall, the difference between the general fund budget and anticipated revenues would be held in reserves, Councilman Dave Hall said.

He said the anticipated revenues above the budget, are more than have been available in recent years.

This year’s general fund budget is $11,780,828.

General fund budget requests by elected officials and department heads for 2018 were $13,259,947, which was about $866,000 higher than anticipated revenues.

During budget discussions held a couple of meetings prior to the budget’s adoption during the Oct. 18 meeting, council members found most of the savings by reducing pay increase requests that ranged from nothing to nearly 20 percent.

The council did approve a pay increase of 7 percent for highway department employees because of commercial driver’s license requirements. Highway department workers, however, are paid from the highway fund and not the general fund.

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics with Jackson County Emergency Medical Services also will receive a 9 percent increase in pay. The EMS budget is funded by through collection of funds for services and a public safety tax and not through the general fund.

The council also plans to rewrite the pay scale for police officers with bigger increases built in after five, 10, 15 and 20 years in an effort to make the sheriff’s department more competitive with the state police and Seymour Police Department, Hall said.

Items not surviving the budget-cutting process included $160,000 for an additional public defender and a request from custodian Jana Wessel for $129,000 for additional full- and part-time janitorial help with the opening of the judicial center in Brownstown in late summer or fall of 2018.

Because the state reimburses the county 40 percent of the cost of operating the public defender office, it limits the number of cases each public defender can be assigned at any given time. If caseloads exceed the state-imposed limit, the state can withhold funding.

County Councilman Brian Thompson said council members plan to contract with an attorney to help with the public defender’s office needs in 2018 and will review the need for custodial help once the judicial center opens.

Hall said the county agreed to provide funding to help make a part-time deputy prosecutor position full time and approved funding to increase the number of county extension educator positions from 2.6 to 2.8.

Sheriff Mike Carothers’ request for an additional $100,000 in his jail budget to add two more jailers was cut, Thompson said.

Carothers recently began sending prisoners to other jails in an effort to reduce the inmate count of the 172-bed jail. A recent inmate count was close to 230.

The council was able to take care of a request from Jackson Superior Court II Judge Bruce MacTavish for an additional $10,000 to pay for court appointed special advocates when volunteers can’t be found, Thompson said. That program’s budget is $50,000 this year.

CASA is a program that provides advocacy to child victims of abuse and neglect to ensure they remain at the forefront of the court proceedings and find a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible.

A request for nearly $160,000 for next year’s election from Clerk Amanda Lowery was reduced to $125,000. The remainder of that request for equipment was moved to the cumulative capital fund.

“We have to approve that one,” Thompson said.

A request for $50,000 from Debbie Hackman from the cumulative capital fund to help finance construction of the Jackson County Dog Shelter also was cut.