County Council Approves 2021 Budget With Caveat

Kosciusko County Courthouse. (Photo: Nick Deranek/News Now Warsaw)

Though 2021 won’t be all rosy, the Kosciusko County Council Thursday night approved its budget, the Solid Waste Management District budget and adopted the 2021 salary ordinance.

The county general fund was adopted at $27,002,174 for 2021 by a vote of 6 to 1, with Councilman Mike Long opposed. All county funds for all departments for 2021 total $40,433,069 and $6,733,951.

Long asked County Auditor Michelle Puckett if she would agree “the operating balance as a percent of budget has dropped about 20% year over year.” She said yes.

Sue Ann Mitchell, councilwoman, said, “I just think we should share that we’re nowhere near the $7 million that was reported from the last meeting. As we worked through some of those things, Michelle has found that that revenue has increased, which is quite a good thing.”

At the council’s special meeting Oct. 1, the council approved a list of recommendations to deal with a $7 million revenue deficit for its $27 million budget.

The day after that meeting, Mitchell said they heard that the CARES Act money could be moved and used and that “could be a part of the program.”

“But currently, we could be – it’s not etched in stone and all – but we could be looking at a revenue in the neighborhood of $25.5 million. And we could be reducing our expenditures – based on some of the transfers that we’ve done and some money that is absolutely not going to be spent – we could be reducing that as low as $26,654,000. So that says that we could end the year with an operating balance of someplace in the neighborhood of $8.4 million,” Mitchell explained Thursday.

She said that would put the operating balance as a percent of the budget at 31.7%. Baker Tilly, financial consulting firm, suggested the county could wind up in the 25 to 30% range.

“So we’re close. It doesn’t mean that everything is going rosy. It means we need to watch our spending and I think we do that every year so I don’t know that that’s any different,” Mitchell said. “But I would also make the recommendation that as soon as we finish this year, and the beginning of next year, we start trying to figure out, on a monthly basis, exactly where we’re at so we don’t wind up in a situation where we don’t have money.”

She said it wasn’t that the county couldn’t operate on what it has as the county has the money. “It’s just that it’s in different buckets where we may need to end up moving it,” she said, giving Puckett and her office credit for providing the information.

Puckett thanked her and said, “Before you actually adopt the budget, part of the caveat that needs to be made with that motion is the fact that you do want to utilize the $3 million from the EDIT fund and do the budget reductions from county general and the additional appropriations to other funds for those 2-1/2 employees in January, because those changes is what makes the numbers on the spread sheet what they are. So if you just adopt the budget as is, without that caveat, there’s no assurance that that will happen in January.”

The motion to approve the budget was amended to reflect the caveat Puckett mentioned. The caveat is the list of recommendations the council approved last week.

In another motion, the Solid Waste Management District budget was adopted at $813,512. Puckett said the SWMD did have a conversation about lowering its tax rate, which will be done when it receives its 1782 Notice from the state in December. The advertised tax rate for 2020 is $0.0001 per $100 of assessed valuation, which the District decided was sufficient as well for 2021, she said.

Puckett also presented the 2021 county salary ordinance.

“For the salary ordinance, what we did is we looked at 2020 wages and we processed a 1% increase that you recommended for county employees for 2021. The salary ordinance reflects those changes,” she said.

The department heads reviewed their budgets, comment chart and salary ordinance after the Council’s last meeting to make sure they were accurate. Puckett said there were some minor changes that had to be made but otherwise the review was successful.

The County Council approved the salary ordinance.

Finally, Puckett presented an ordinance to amend the county’s current Rainy Day Fund.

“Currently, the Rainy Day is established and the uses that pertain to the Rainy Day Fund are very specific to bond repayments or Justice Building payments. We do not have a Justice Building payment, that’s been paid off for a few year. So in order to utilize those Rainy Day Funds to work on other projects to assist with county general, if need be, we need to amend the ordinance to allow it to be used for anything that tax dollars could be used for. It’s being amended to mirror what the Indiana code says. It’s just our local ordinance is more restrictive than the Indiana code, so this would be so those mirror each other,” Puckett explained.

The Rainy Day Fund has $3.6 million in it as of Thursday.

“Also at this point, the numbers I just read do not include any of this money at all. This was not included as part of that projection,” Mitchell said, referring to her comments about the county general budget.