Wayne County Council members spent more than six hours July 19 listening to 2024 departmental budget requests.
After only about a half-hour, requests for additional funding already exceeded the extra funds available for 2024. Department heads explained and defended the requests they had submitted, but the county expects only about $680,000 in additional property tax income beyond the 2023 general fund budget of $33,842,233, council member Tony Gillam said.
The increase is only about a third as much as the county’s nearly $2 million increase in collected funds from 2022 to 2023, leaving little wiggle room for additional expenditures. Plus, nearly a third of the 2024 increase will be used by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office’s new contract with Quality Correctional Care to provide inmate health care at the Wayne County Jail. That contract, entered this year, ups the health care costs by $218,000 annually.
Council received requests for 27 new positions, Gillam said. Some departments also included raises of up to 22% for their employees, although council generally provides across-the-board employee raises. Many department heads explained their increased budgets for supplies and equipment because of higher prices and their additional gas, food and lodging budgets because travel, including for training events, has resumed more fully after COVID-19 slowdowns.
Some increased 2024 expenses are unavoidable. For example, Wayne County’s courts doubled their budget request for juror per diems from $50,000 to $100,000. That’s in response to a new Indiana law that doubled the daily pay members of juror pools and those selected as jurors receive. Judge Charles Todd Jr. said the previous daily rates of $15 for pool members and $40 for jurors were “shameful” and said the doubled rates were still “not good.”
The clerk’s office also must run 2024 primary and general elections that include a presidential race when there was no primary necessary during 2023.
Council will now spend several months winnowing the requests before adopting a budget later this fall.
In addition to the juror pay increase, Wayne County’s judges have requested four new positions. Prosecutor Mike Shipman also is requesting new deputy prosecutors and support staff.
Shipman said the criminal justice system has chronically been underfunded and his staff handles excessive case loads, including serious violent crime. Waggoner Irwin Scheele and Associates of Muncie conducted a statewide analysis of prosecution staff and Wayne County’s staffing was “dramatically lower” than the recommendation, Shipman said. Wayne County also uses the Muncie firm for evaluations of jobs and salaries.
The judges and Shipman made similar requests last year for the 2023 budget.
Clerk Debbie Berry said Indiana laws have changed how early votes will be counted, increasing costs leading up to the 2024 presidential election.
Indiana now requires that early voters seal their ballots in special envelopes that will not be counted until election day. Last year, the first after Wayne County returned to paper ballots, voters casting ballots at vote centers scanned their ballots and the scanner provided a daily electronic vote count. That will no longer happen prior to Election Day.
Berry said her office would request 17 regular scanners that are fed ballot-by-ballot or two central scanners that handle 500 ballots at a time. A central scanner costs $80,000 and has a $7,000 annual licensing fee, Berry said. She already has ordered 5,000 envelopes, which she said are expensive, for the 2023 election.
Berry has supplied a wish list to the state Secretary of State’s office and will pursue grant funding for the additional election costs.
“Elections aren’t something where we can cut corners,” she said.
Coroner Kevin Fouche requested that the council make the coroner and chief deputy full-time positions and increase pay for his other deputies.
Fouche said he has two open deputy positions and is laughed at by qualified applicants when he says they’ll earn $7,743 a year. Each deputy is on call for 10 12-hour shifts per month, Fouche said. He’d like to increase their pay to $9,800 per year.
Fouche also requested a $60,000 coroner’s salary and a $45,000 salary — 75% of the coroner’s wages — for a chief deputy because of the increasing workload. Fouche said he remembers no more than 147 cases in a year from his previous stint as coroner, but during 2022, the office handled 763 cases. Fouche made $24,231 that year, and Tim Brown, the chief deputy, made $18,174.
“I love my job; I love serving my county,” Fouche said.
Fouche told council he’d prefer to increase deputy salaries than to fill one of the open positions. “I’d like to keep the staff that we have who are good at their job,” Fouche said.
Christine Stinson, executive director of the Wayne County Health Department, decreased her budget request by almost 10% to $778,725.
She shifted two positions to be funded by new additional funding the state will provide participating counties for 2024. Stinson will present her plan and budget for the additional state funding to Wayne County’s commissioners, who will decide if the county accepts the funding. The new money comes with core service requirements and the requirement that a county continue funding the health department equal to a three-year average of previous funding.
Wayne County’s commissioners requested one additional department head-level position. Under the 2023 salary schedule, that position would make $75,898.
Commissioners want the new position to assume administrative duties, such as payroll, from Steve Higinbotham, the county’s director of facilities and development whom commissioner Jeff Plasterer said basically functions as the commissioners’ chief deputy. Higinbotham would also have time to train the new hire before Higinbotham eventually retires.
Plasterer said the new person would be on board while the county’s rate of project development is high with American Rescue Plan Act dollars available to spend.
Auditor Mark Hoelscher, in addition to requesting one new position to track the county’s grants, presented a proposal to provide longevity pay for county employees who have worked at least three years.
Hoelscher said he hired a new employee and was forced by county salary schedule to pay that person the same as his experienced employees.
His recommendation is to take $200,000 from the $3.3 million held by Dunn and Associates, the county’s insurance administrator, as a safeguard for worst-case insurance scenarios. Each employee who has worked at least three years would then get $1,000. Kim Clauser, the county’s human resources director, urged caution about using that money, saying the county could experience a bad claims year at any time.
Beth Leisure, council’s president, said council has previously considered longevity pay but has never had the funds to implement it.
A version of this article appeared in the July 26 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.