Franklin County resident and local government watchdog Mildred Simmermeyer criticized some of the procedures of Franklin County Council at its March 30 meeting; council members and their associates showed up at their April 27 meeting with clarification on the spending discussed.

One of the primary points of contention was the services provided by financial consultant firm The Reedy Group. When council reviewed the latest invoice from Reedy, Simmermeyer again spoke up about their billing practices concerning a specific report that auditor Karla Bauman spends 15 minutes to prepare for submission to Reedy, who then bills 15 hours on the report before submitting it to the state. Council president Jeff Koch replied comparing the work performed by Bauman and Reedy is like comparing apples and oranges. Koch stated Reedy's billing practices have improved after council requested more detailed billing breakdowns.

Bauman addressed the overall county balances Simmermeyer spoke of in March when she reported the county's total balance at the end of November was $23.8 million, which dropped to $17.9 million by February. Bauman explained the difference is due to property taxes collected in November and then distributed in December.

Councilman Joe Gillespie, speaking on his own behalf, addressed some of Simmermeyer's concerns. He noted the $66,696 paid to Reedy is in excess of the county's contract with the group, not to exceed $65,000. Gillespie explained this was due to $2,883 encumbered from 2019 and paid with 2019 funds.

On the $53,470 Simmermeyer attributed to attorney Grant Reeves, Gillespie explained that sum was paid to Reeves’ law firm Barada Law Offices. Of that amount, $26,915 was for services rendered by Reeves, the remainder was for his partner performing public defender work. Reeves noted the amount paid for his services covers his work for all county work, including the county commissioners, council and others.

Gillespie explained the county has more than 15 sources of revenue, 24 department budgets in the general fund and more than 50 budgets in other funds. The total budget for the county is around $18.43 million.

“The main benefit of having a financial consultant is to have a financial plan for the revenue sources and the departments' budgets. We are currently in the third year of our plan. This year we've been able to fund our budget, not cut any employees, although we were not able to fund employee raises. Our county tax rate comparison with 20 other similarly sized counties by population; our 2020 rate is 19th out of the 20. Our net assessed valuation is seventh out of the 20. The 2020 property tax levy comparison, we are 17th out of 20 and our 2020 budget comparison is 17th also. It seems like we are moving in the right direction. We do have cash balances for 300 days and that exceeds our cash goal of six months cash.

“I recall in the past when there were real questions regarding cash balances, revenues, et cetera and no one seemed to have the same answers. I also recall when previous council would go to budget hearings, they would cut budgets and submit them and then they would have to go back and further cut the budgets to achieve our goal.

“I realize the county offices have changed for the better, but our projections are so much better than they have ever been. These are some of the reasons that I voted in favor of our consultant. I feel it is a great benefit to the citizens of Franklin County to have this professional help,” stated Gillespie.

Also discussed:
-Prosecutor Chris Huerkamp explained the grant funding allocated to his department to hire a new deputy prosecutor, Blaine Timonera of Batesville, through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. The grant funds 80 percent of position with a 20 percent local match, which will be paid through the court's pre-trial diversion funds; no funding through the county's general fund will be used.

-Sheriff Peter Cates reported to council his department's K-9 handler has found a dog available from the Milton Police Department named Astro for $7,500. Astro has undergone a thorough health screen and cleared for service. Although he has been trained, he will be retrained with his new handler.

-County 911 supervisor Jon Hundley brought a grant opportunity to council to upgrade the department's mapping system. The county would need to pay $35,660 up front for the upgrade and would be reimbursed for 60 percent of the cost. Hundley explained there is money available in the 911 fund and while the new mapping system is not required by the state, he suggested getting the upgrade before it is required and grant money is available. Council authorized Hund-ley to apply for the grant.

-Franklin County EMS submitted a public safety allocation request for the 2022 budget. Reeves explained EMS must submit a funding request each year; council can budget less than the requested amount, but not more. He advised EMS to submit a request higher than what they need with the expectation it will be reduced; on that advice, EMS submitted a request for $500,000 for 2022.