Continually adding red ink to their spreadsheet, Wayne County Council members began trimming requests for the 2024 budget during their Aug. 30 meeting.
In an approximately 11-hour marathon session, including a quick pizza lunch, council went through department heads’ requests totaling a little over $38 million and trimmed them to about $34 million.
“We’ve made a significant difference today,” said Max Smith.
However, councilor Tony Gillam, a certified public accountant who led the discussion, said much work and likely additional cuts remain before the budget will be finalized. He said the budget is “super tight this year” and urged department leaders who were asked to appear and answer questions not to take the smaller budgets personally.
Wayne County also waits on a key piece of data from state officials: how much the county will receive in income taxes.
Some department heads have asked for additional personnel or more hours to tackle various needs. Some have asked for raises to retain specialized full-time employees in a competitive market, or increase pay to recruit temporary but vital poll workers.
However, council is cautiously reviewing personnel requests because it rarely approves new full-time workers, and especially this year, it is prioritizing an across-the-board raise for all county workers if the council can find enough money.
For example, Wayne County courts have again requested money for personnel needs to keep up with surging caseloads. Beth Leisure, council president, said that the council hopes to be able to fund another deputy prosecutor and support person, but they can’t fill all requests on the list.
Coroner Kevin Fouche asked council to convert part-time positions for himself and his chief deputy to full-time, citing higher caseloads. Fouche was paid $24,231 in 2022. However, Fouche’s request found no initial support.
Sheriff Randy Retter said he’s hopeful he can reduce some overtime if a contract can be finalized with a transporter to take mental health patients to treatment across the state. He asked for a part-time evidence technician to be increased to full-time to respond to an increasing number of public records requests, such as videos that must have some information safeguarded before release.
Some rising expenses are out of council’s hands, such as a state-mandated increase in juror pay.
Compared to previous years, the council is considering fewer requests for new vehicles. Because of supply shortages, those purchases have become more difficult, so the county plans to put more miles on the vehicles they currently own, Leisure said.
Many of the council’s preliminary Aug. 30 cuts involved office supplies and printed items, equipment maintenance, reference books, postage, travel expenses and training. Council plans to tap an existing fund that they’ve learned would cover training expenses for elected officials and their deputies.
Preferring to cut budgets now, councilors suggested department heads ask for council’s discretionary funds throughout the year when unexpected needs arise.
Councilors also aim to pull some large one-time expenses for needs such as equipment out of the budget and consider using American Rescue Plan funds.
One of those large looming expenses is voting equipment for the 2024 election. Clerk Debbie Berry said she’s going to first seek help from Indiana’s secretary of state for the nearly $270,000 needed to buy additional equipment and booths for the anticipated large crowds casting ballots for president, governor and other officials.
Council will again discuss the budget during its 8 a.m. Sept. 6 meeting in Wayne County Administration Building. The public may attend.
A version of this article appeared in the September 6 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.