Saturday, September 14, 2013

Truth Reports Elkhart Commissioners Recommend $8.5 Million in Budget Adjustments

From the Elkhart Truth:

With a budget shortfall projected to be as much as $7.5 million, the Elkhart County commissioners have written a list of a dozen ways the county can save money and cut expenses in 2014.

From tapping into landfill fees and shifting funds from one account to another, members of the Elkhart County Council will take the suggestions into consideration Tuesday, Sept. 17, as they begin sketching out a spending plan for the upcoming year. If the council takes the commissioners’ advice, the county could save up to $8.5 million.

Here is a breakdown of the commissioners’ recommendations:

• The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department has budgeted $2.6 million for medical services. Because the county is expected to receive more funds — $9.45 million total — from the jail county adjusted gross income tax, or CAGIT, in 2014, the commissioners have suggested using $2.2 million from the jail CAGIT to pay for the sheriff’s department’s medical expenses rather than dipping into the general fund. The county typically uses $6.3 million each year from the jail CAGIT fund to pay for bonds secured for the jail’s operations.

• In 2014, Elkhart County is expected to receive $10.7 million from the CAGIT, representing a $2.4 million increase over 2013. The county uses regular CAGIT money to supplement funds generated by property taxes for operations. Because of the projected increase, the commissioners have suggested moving $865,000 for employee fringe benefits, like health insurance, from the county’s general fund to the CAGIT fund.

• The commissioners have proposed using $250,000 from Elkhart County’s rainy day fund to balance the 2014 budget. In 2013, $800,000 in rainy day funds were plugged in to balance the county’s spending plan.

• The commissioners have recommended applying $2 million from Elkhart County’s economic development income tax, or EDIT, to the 2014 budget shortfall. The county used $1 million in EDIT funds to balance the 2013 budget.

• The commissioners estimated that the county could save $890,000 by reducing the election board’s budget for new voting equipment and, instead, exploring leasing options using another fund.

• The county had planned to double its contribution to employee health savings accounts from $750 annually to $1,500. If the contribution remains unchanged, the county will avoid spending $475,000.

• State funding for Bashor Children’s Home’s shelter care program for kids is uncertain, and the service is no longer being provided, according to county administrator Tom Byers. The county’s contribution is $82,000 annually.

• As a short-term option, the commissioners have suggested balancing the budget by using $1 million generated from tipping fees, the charge haulers pay to unload trash at the county landfill.

• A longer term plan would include amending the landfill ordinance to dedicate a certain percentage — potentially adding up to $250,000 — from tipping fees to the county’s budget.

• Four county departments — the prosecutor’s office, the recorder, the assessor and code enforcement — have included new positions, vacant positions and potential changes for part-time workers in their 2014 budget requests. If the county decides not to make any changes or add positions, about $209,300 would be saved.

• The county typically budgets $1 million for liability to cover lawsuits and accidents. The commissioners have proposed reducing that budget by $100,000 to $200,000.

• The commissioners have recommended using $100,000 from the Community Corrections Advisory Board’s income from programs like electronic monitoring and drug testing to balance the 2014 budget.