County Council gives updates on 2020 budget requests
By Randulf Teufel, Contributor
At their June 25 regular meeting, Franklin County Council members provided brief updates on two significant requests made for the upcoming 2020 budget.
County Auditor Karla Bauman reported most of the department heads had submitted 2020 salary requests and were only waiting on a couple more to come in. She advised council some departments had requested $10,000 raises across the board, and there were several new positions requested. Once the rest of the requests are in, they will be submitted to the county council consultant. Bauman later provided a document outlining the salary budget requests for all of the county's departments. The final number of requested new positions is 18 with a budget of $5,269,780 up nearly 27 percent from 2019's budgeted $4,150,684.
Some departments, like Communication and Health, have requested standard cost-of-living raises of 3 to 5 percent. While some departments, such as Assessor and Probation, have requested raises of $10,000 or more per person. And other departments, Recorder and Treasurer, have requested $10,000 raises for current employees as well as one new employee each. Most of the new positions requested are for the Jail and Sheriff, with five new positions each. Both departments have struggled with understaffing for years, the Franklin County Security Center is written up regularly by state inspectors and the Sheriff's deputies often struggle providing coverage for nearly all of the county's 391 square miles. A 3 percent raise has also been requested for Jail and Sheriff employees.
While this much of an increase in the county's salary budget may seem extreme, the county went seven years without a pay increase. And employees only had the possibility of a raise for the past couple of years. Some departments are trying to catch up to a modern livable wage, while others are asking for raises putting all probation officers well above the national average of $53,020, according to the latest number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At this point, all of these salary requests are just that, requests, and subject to negotiation or outright refusal. These will be submitted to the county's budget consultant before the budget workshops scheduled to begin Monday, August 19, and to continue each day of that week until concluded. A public hearing will be held Tuesday, Aug. 27, for Public Safety requests. A public hearing on the budget will be held Tuesday, Sept. 24 concerning the budget, and the budget's adoption is set for Oct. 8. It is then submitted to the Division of Local Government Finance for approval.
The second requested budget increase was that of Franklin County EMS' funding from the Public Safety Income Tax fund. Franklin County EMS contracted with the county to provide coverage for the county for $300,000 for 2019, as it had for two years prior, which was double the price of 2016's coverage. This year EMS has requested $500,000 from the Public Safety Income Tax fund for 2020, half of 2019's total revenue generated by the tax. Councilwoman Becky Oglesby questioned why they were asking for such a high increase, adding she did not like the wording of the request, particularly the line “The EMS is making this application at the urging of the County to assist the County in retaining additional funds and is NOT making any political statement with regard to the public safety tax itself.”
The EMS also specifies that it may seek alternative funding from the county in addition to the Public Safety Income Tax fund.
At the Franklin County Council meeting on October 9, 2018, then councilman Aaron Leffingwell stated “EMS service, as provided by the Franklin County EMS, is nowhere adequate for serving Franklin County.” And “We should be ashamed of the service we are providing.”
Leffingwell also informed council during that meeting the Rushville EMS will no longer respond to Franklin County calls. As reported by the Rushville Republican on October 2, 2018, Rushville Fire Chief Chuck Jenkins told Rush County commissioners the number of Franklin County calls have restricted their ability to service Rush county residents. While Rushville EMS has provided back-up services in the past, the number of calls has increased, even after discussing the issue with Franklin County EMS officials.