By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Madison County workers will see their first pay raise since 2006 under a proposed budget for 2014 the County Council is expected to vote on by month's end.
County employees — many of whom make less than $30,000 per year — will receive a 3 percent wage increase next year under the proposed spending plan, said Council President John Bostic, D-District 3.
Madison County sheriff deputies also will receive raises, but are covered under a different collective bargaining agreement. The salaries of elected officials will remain unchanged, Bostic added.
"I'm glad that we were able to give county employees a raise," he said. "We have people who come to work that only make $25,000 or $27,000."
Bostic said he expects the final general fund budget for 2014 to come in between $32 million and $33 million.
County Auditor Jane Lyons said her staff is still calculating the final numbers, as well as the amount of property taxes that help pay for the majority of government operations.
"We had a lot of debate to get to where we are," said Bostic, referring to several days of budget hearings the County Council held earlier this month.
The proposed budget includes approximately $1.2 million in revenue from the newly reinstated wheel tax. That money will be combined with state road funding money approved by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year, which Gov. Mike Pence signed into law as part of a two-year $30 billion budget agreement.
In order to achieve a balanced budget, the council required most county departments to eliminate funding for machinery and equipment, but said they could return with requests after the budget takes effect in January to make a case for those requests.
Rick Gardner, R-District 4, said he disagreed with that concept because it doesn't represent good budgeting practice. "There was some stuff that was cut they know they're going to have to come back for."
Bostic acknowledged Gardner's concern, but said budgeting is different now than when he was first elected to the County Council in the late 1990s and revenue only came in twice a year.
Things are different now, he said. The county has resumed annual tax and commissioner sales to recoup delinquent property taxes, and county option income tax (COIT) funds arrive monthly.
That means county officials have more financial flexibility to address department needs as they come up during the year, Bostic said. "We now have revenue coming in all year. To me, that makes budgeting easier."
Freshman Councilwoman Lisa Phillips, R-at large, said she found the whole budget process hard, but "rewarding," and couldn't help thinking about the challenges facing Congress as it struggles with national budget priorities.
"I have a whole new respect for what Congress is trying to do right now," said the longtime county employee.
Like Bostic, Phillips said she's pleased county employees will receive a raise, but said the the council must continue to be a good steward of taxpayer money.
"Even though we're better off than we have been for years, we still don't have a lot of money," she said.
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What's Next The Madison County Council will introduce a budget resolution for fiscal 2014 at a meeting on Oct. 30. On the following day, Halloween, members will take a final vote on the spending plan. Under Indiana law, county officials must pass a budget by Nov. 1. After passage, the budget is sent to a state agency, the Department of Local Government Finance, for review and approval.