Liberty Town Council discussed employee pay for 2023 at its Aug. 1 meeting as the annual budget deadline approaches.

Liberty clerk-treasurer Melissa Shepler asked if any board members had an idea of where they wanted to start the discussion for employee pay in the 2023 budget. Board member Ross Keasling inquired what the current cost of living calculations are; Shepler replied the current rate she saw was 8.6 percent. Shepler explained to the board she needs to get the 2023 budget prepared with enough time for a review by the town's financial consultant, Baker Tilly, before advertising to the public at the end of September.

LTC president Matt Barnhizer asked how the board felt about eight percent. Keasling noted the board approved raises to town employees earlier in the year; he suggested five percent. Barnhizer felt five percent was a fair increase.

Board member Derreck Jenkins noted he would like to see the cost-of-living increase around eight percent. LTC vice-president Keith Bias agreed, but worried of the impact to the town's budget. Jenkins praised Shepler's work as clerk-treasurer and recommended an increase to her pay. The board went on to discuss the pay for the employees in the office, the police department and the street and utilities department. Keasling agreed to go ahead and calculate the budget with an eight percent increase. Bias suggested going back to review pay in the clerk-treasurer's office once the budget is calculated with the eight percent increase, which saw smaller raises earlier in the year.

Also discussed:
-Liberty Police Department Chief Andrew Jordan gave an update to council on the department's staffing and sought permission to extend an offer to a second candidate from the recent round of applicants, council approved. Due to the department having operated with a reduced staff, officers have had difficulty scheduling time off before their benefit hours expire. LTC reviewed a resolution granting the department's officers an extension to the end of December 2022. 

Jenkins asked about the potential of authorizing payouts for the benefit hours if they are not used by the end of the year. Shepler and Barnhizer agreed the matter could be revisited. Keasling expressed his preference that officers take the time off, even if it requires paying overtime for coverage; noting the importance of a healthy work-life balance for the department. LTC voted to approve the resolution.

LTC reviewed and approved a transfer of funds request, moving $2,850 from the LPD's new vehicle fund into its equipment fund for the purchase of a license plate reading camera. Jenkins asked if the camera would be used to issue traffic citations. Keasling replied the camera would only be used in investigations. Jordan reported the Union County Sheriff's Office is looking for funds to purchase a camera as well.

-Union County special projects coordinator Olivia Chewning presented an update on the proposed firehouse feasibility study opportunity through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Chewning has been working with grant administrator Mike Kleinpeter on the application; if LTC is interested in moving forward, Kleinpeter will discuss the project with council in September.

-Union County Development Corporation executive assistant Dawnn Ripberger presented a quarterly update to LTC. The last quarter was primarily consumed with the 4th of July Festival. Moving forward, UCDC is working on Harvest Fest, planned for Oct. 8, Christmas in our Hometown in December, which may feature an ice skating rink, and additional mural plans to utilize remaining funds raised for the Bob Jenkins mural.

Ripberger asked about infrastructure that had been laid along U.S. 27 to support a street light expansion. Conduit and access covers were put in place when the highway had been resurfaced with plans to install street lights. UCDC is seeking funds to install the streetlights and inquired if the town would cover the electric usage if lights are installed. Liberty street and utility superintendent Matt Reuss reported he has documentation on the existing streetlights in town so matching lamps can be added and agreed to seek out blueprints on the conduit that is already in place. Barnhizer agreed to review the electric costs once the board knows the number of lamps to be installed and their energy consumption specifications.

-LTC reviewed requests for tap-ins to the town's water on Treaty Line Road. A property owner wants to hook a series of homes up to a privately-owned water line serviced by the town. Not only is the water line privately-owned, but it is made of an unknown material from 1971 called “Permastrand.” Reuss and council members expressed a number of concerns about the connections, and the potential for more connections in the future. After some discussion, LTC agreed to invite the property owner to a future meeting.