Liberty Town Council held a public hearing on the proposed 2021 budget at its Oct. 5 meeting, keeping the total level with past years at $853,291.

Town clerk-treasurer Melissa Shepler explained the $853,291 covers the town’s administration, town fire, police and street department. Considerations factored into the budget include raises to police officer pay, in an effort to make salaries more competitive with other area agencies, of $2,500 and $1,033 raises for other town employees.

Police cruisers have been a topic of discussion in recent months and continued in the budget hearing. The department’s five officers rotate through four patrol vehicles. Councilman Dereck Tipton has pushed the discussion of assigning a dedicated vehicle for each officer with privileges to commute to and from work in the cruiser. Take-home cars would require the town purchase a fifth vehicle.

Shepler noted if the board decides to permit take-home cars, use would be limited to driving to and from official business. If officers were permitted to use their patrol car as a personal vehicle, it would be a taxable benefit and require officers to pay additional income tax.

Building a five-vehicle fleet has been complicated by ongoing mechanical problems with the department’s oldest vehicle; a recent breakdown has left the department with only three patrol cars. Shepler included the purchase of a replacement in the 2021 budget; discussion adding a second vehicle purchase to bring the fleet to five resumed. Councilman Matt Barnhizer suggested moving forward with one new car budgeted and purchasing a second with an additional appropriation if desired.

Shepler included the vehicle purchase in the Cumulative Capital Development (CCD) fund. Councilman Keith Bias inquired why the expense should come out of CCD as opposed to the Public Safety Local Option Income Tax (PS LOIT). Shepler noted the town’s $60,000 contribution to the county’s new dispatch system will take a significant amount from the PS LOIT fund.

Bias asked Liberty Police Department Chief Andrew Jordan if he had updated quotes for patrol vehicles. Jordan presented a quote of $32,994 for the vehicle, outfitting with lights, radios and graphics for patrol would add approximately $4,500. The board discussed purchasing one car from CCD and a second from PS LOIT.

LTC will vote on the proposed 2021 budget at its Oct. 19 meeting.

Also discussed:

• Ross Keasling was appointed to the seat of the late Gerald Paul. A caucus was held Oct. 3; Keasling beat out three other candidates and will complete Paul’s four-year term.

• Jordan asked the board about plans to replace LPD’s oldest vehicle, a 2006 Ford Explorer with a salvage title. The vehicle recently broke down, Jordan was quoted $936 to repair it, the vehicle has required approximately $4,000 in repairs over the past 18 months and drained the department’s maintenance budget for the year.

The dealership Jordan contacted estimated vehicle deliveries were three months out from the date of order and the invoice would be due at delivery.

The board agreed to give Jordan approval to order one new vehicle with the stipulation it cannot be picked up until Jan. 1, regardless of when it arrives at the dealership, to go against one of the vehicles budgeted for 2021 out of the PS LOIT fund.

• Liberty Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Barnhizer inquired about insurance coverage for firefighters responding to calls. Keasling responded once firefighters are called, they would be covered under the town’s workers’ compensation coverage. Barnhizer replied he was concerned about liability coverage if a firefighter were to be involved in an automotive accident en route to the firehouse, citing an incident that had occurred recently with another fire department. A firefighter was responding to a call and struck another motorist while crossing an intersection, Barnhizer wished to ensure his crew, the department and the town are adequately protected if a similar situation were to happen locally. Shelper agreed to discuss the issue with the town’s insurance agent.

• Council agreed to authorize Halloween Trick-or-Treat to take place as usual on Oct. 31 from 6 to 8 p.m.

• Under an agreement with the county, Liberty contributes 25 percent of the payroll for the county’s 911 dispatchers. The town is invoiced twice a year, but the amount of the invoice and billing date varies drastically, making it difficult to budget. Shepler and Keasling will work to revise the original 1986 agreement.