Two of several issues facing Madison County were resolved this past week by the county commissioners.

The commissioners this week approved the payment of claims, something that had not been done since May 12, and voted to keep the Cumulative Bridge Fund property tax rate at the current 3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Although progress was made, the biggest obstacle remaining for the final six months of the year is how to pay a county attorney.

The County Commissioners earlier this month requested approximately $175,000 to pay the Indianapolis law firm of Bose McKinney & Evans for work already performed.

It was a request denied by the Madison County Council, with Councilman Steve Sumner noting if the request had been approved the county would have spent $300,000 on attorney fees through the first five months of the year.

The commissioners then wanted the council to consider a transfer of $250,000 from the Group Health Insurance fund to pay the amount owed to the firm, as well as a basic monthly payment through the end of the year.

The problem is the Group Health Insurance fund is already $800,000 short for the year.

To be fair to the commissioners, this is not the first time in recent years that the council has voiced concerns with how much is being spent on attorney fees.

It seems that no matter what the budgeted amount is, there is never enough money to cover the costs of legal representation.

Several council members recently stated the county could save money by hiring a full-time attorney to address legal matters.

In theory, it sounds like a cost saving measure, but the devil will be in the details of how a contract or job description is written.

Some council members believe an attorney can be hired for $80,000 per year.

Does that amount include health insurance and a pension?

Will the county pay for a legal secretary for the county attorney? How much will that salary and benefits cost? Will an office be provided in the courthouse?

Madison County had a full-time attorney in the past and many other counties also have a full-time attorney.

The problem has always been, when lawsuits are filed against the county, the hiring of an outside law firm to handle the case.

So any future budget would have to include the cost of a full-time county attorney with a secretary and benefits at a conservative estimate of $150,000 per year.

The question becomes how much to budget for litigation cases. That’s the unknown.

In the next few months, county officials will begin work on a 2021 budget in which at least two people, Commissioner Mike Phipps and Councilman Pete Heuer, will not be in office on Jan. 1.

It may be time to create a committee consisting of county officials and a member of the legal community to study the options available for legal representation in the future.

Senior Reporter Ken de la Bastide’s column publishes Saturdays. Contact him at ken.delabastide@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4863.

Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.

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