Franklin County Council received an earful from local municipal government watchdog Mildred Simmermeyer at its March 30 meeting.

Following the review and approval of nearly $120,000 in additional appropriations, Simmermeyer addressed the board: “I have quite a few observations about how the money is being spent.”

Simmermeyer first focused on the recent capital development bond, which cost Franklin County taxpayers approximately $66,000 in service fees. While the 2021 budget passed in the fall was described as balanced, it relied on a $1.1 million bond and the board continued to approve additional appropriations each month. Simmermeyer hit at the additional appropriations council approves each month. The fees paid to consultants in 2020 totaled $150,000 that did not benefit the taxpayers, “all because you're not doing your job, your elected job.”

Simmermeyer directed special attention at the services provided by The Reedy Group, which accounted for $96,696 of the consulting fees. She had asked county auditor Karla Bauman how long it takes her to organize and send the quarterly end-of-year report to Reedy, which Bauman estimated at 10 minutes. Simmermeyer pointed out Reedy charged the county more than 15 hours, $2,770 to format the document for their system.

The Reedy bill reviewed at council's February meeting was sent to the county in error instead of the correct recipient, the mistake was caught by freshman councilman Carol Lanning. Simmermeyer asked how any other invoices had been wrongfully submitted and paid and criticized the firm's claim bill reporting, which does not meet Indiana State Board of Accounts requirements.

“When will it stop? How long can we afford to pay this group?” Simmermeyer asked. “You should be ashamed of yourselves, and then to say you've got a balanced budget.”

Also discussed:
• Council reviewed additional appropriation requests from the surveyor's perpetuation fund totaling $63,925, local road and street totaling $30,000, grant funding totaling $3,005 and general fund totaling $102,089. Councilman Brian Patterson noted concerns about paying parts of the general expenditures, which included unbudgeted workers’ compensation payments. Patterson suggested just paying what is owed now. Council president replied the board could pay $10,000 for unemployment insurance and $12,000 for workers’ compensation, but council will need to readdress it at the next meeting. The cuts would bring the general fund additional appropriation to $22,000. Councilman Scott McDonough made a motion to approve the additional appropriations with the cuts to the general fund appropriations. The board voted in favor.

• Bill Schirmer addressed the board on behalf of the Franklin County Redevelopment Commission (FCRC). Franklin County Community School Corporation asked the commission for a $4,900 grant to offset the purchase of digital microscopes and lab test equipment for the schools' agriculture departments. Schirmer reported meeting with the school board and agriculture departments and the FCRC agreed to provide the requested funding. Schirmer noted the FCRC is not required to seek approval for budgeted expenditures but wanted to keep council informed on the commission's operations.

• Council reviewed a salary ordinance amendment for a new part-time position in the prosecutor's office. The position is to be paid $1,920 and $480 biweekly. Bauman noted the position is grant funded and her office is still trying to finalize the pay figures from the state. Lanning asked if they are reviewing one position or two; Bauman replied it is one position but paid out of two different funds. Some council members raised concerns about a part-time position being paid $2,400 every two weeks. Bauman noted the employee is a lawyer working as an investigator and has turned down health insurance coverage. A full-time position also requires appropriating benefit pay, while part-time does not. The employee has started working and was owed a paycheck at the time of the meeting.

Councilman Joe Gillespie brought up a previous discussion where council agreed to not hire more employees until a time study was completed to determine how many employees are needed in each department. McDonough noted they have approved new positions funded through grants or perpetuation funds, as long as the position did not impact the general fund. Patterson replied this position will likely impact the general fund through insurance costs, workman's compensation and unemployment insurance.

“When did we approve this? … from what I remember, this was going to be an easy thing, it was all grant money and it wasn't going to be an issue, and it was not going to cost the county a dime,” said council president Jeff Koch.

Patterson suggested approving a short-term payment and asking prosecutor Chris Huerkamp to come in to discuss the matter with council. McDonough agreed. Patterson made a motion to pay the employee through the next meeting, April 27, and request Huerkamp come in for that meeting. Council voted to approve.