LAWRENCE COUNTY - OCTOBER 14, 2022 - Instead of decreasing the proposed 2023 budget by $1 Million dollars, the budget will actually increase by $1.5 Million for Lawrence County government.
The proposed 2023 budget was $27,445,873 and now is at $28,997,673 after votes for five percent pay increases were approved. Lawrence County Council members maintaining they are conservative Republicans in their campaign announcements.
The Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs originally warned Lawrence County Council members of overspent estimated revenue shares since 2019.
In the work session held on August 31, 2022, the county council members spent the day from 10:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. trying to slash the budget by $1 Million based on her original recommendation. But that since changed with new information from the Lawrence County Auditor's office and Indiana Association of County Government.
According to Staggs at the time the 2022 General Fund adopted budget was $16,100,294 and this year's budget was $17,445,873. The general fund revenues for 2023 is $16,778,171 leaving a deficit of $667,702.
But since that dire warning Staggs has since provided more details on October 4th to the Lawrence County Zephyr. This comes after the county council passed a three percent pay raise for all county employees on that day.
Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs
Staggs addressing her earlier comments made back in August, " There were concerns of over estimating revenues, not deficits the county has never overspent what the state has approved our budget," according to Staggs.
At the end of 2022, the county was presented with an ending balance of $6,232,560 this year. And if they adopt the budget with a three percent pay increase, they will have an ending balance, that will actually be more.
However, with the passage of the five percent salary increase across the board they will have an ending balance at the end of this year of $3,350,842 in reserve which will be 20 percent of the budget proposal. The county rainy day fund is $2.9 Million according to county officials.
" If you would listen to what the experts say, (Indiana Department of Local Government Finance) if you take a look at what your total proposed budget in the General Fund you should have at least 15 percent in reserves. With the original cuts made prior to October 4th they are 20 percent, if the county council kept the pay raises of county employees at three percent that total would have been more," according to Staggs.
" My concern earlier in the budget process was overestimating of the revenues, but that is why they are estimates. I just wanted to be able know what to work with from this point forward and that is why Jacque Clemments Indiana Association of Counties told me with this worksheet and certified shares," added Staggs.
" If you looked at the annual report, we still maintained a general fund higher balance. We have always ended in the General Fund. We have never overspent what the state has allowed us," Staggs concluded. " If the county did not have the revenues and levies, as well as cash balances they would not have approved the budget. They would have denied the budget,"
Jaque Clemments weighing in on the five percent pay increases stated she believed with the levies could be achieved if $300,000 was cut from the proposed budget. But now the county council has increased the budget by $1.5 Million.
The pay increases for county employees have been contentious throughout the 2023 budget process. In a September 21st meeting of the council made approximately $716,077 in budget cuts.
With those proposed cuts a motion was made for three percent pay increases for all employees. However, that motion died due to a 3-3 tie vote and council member Janie Craig Chenault was not in attendance while she attended a conference in California.
Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham
On October 4th Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham made a pitch for a five percent pay increase for Deputies, Jailers and 911 Dispatchers due to high turnover, and high costs of training new employees. Branham met with the salary committee to behind closed doors to make his case for the new pay increase for his personnel.
After going before the whole county council, a motion was made for a three percent pay increases for county employees, and elected leaders. A five percent pay increases for the Sheriff's proposed pay increase was approved in a 4-2 vote with Jeff Lytton making the motion for that proposal.
Lawrence County Council members Rick Butterfield and Mike Wright voting " No" Both of those council members saying all county employees should get a five percent pay increase.
It should be noted that during this vote the original vote was never rescinded by Robert Rules of Order.
In an October 7th meeting a new proposal for pay increases for all county employees as well as elected leaders in a motion made by Jeff Lytton. The council voted 6- 0 for the pay increase for everyone.
However, a vote to rescind the other two motions have not yet been made even though council members voted on the five percent pay increases.
In addition, questions remain on whether Vice-President Jeff Lytton can vote on pay increases for himself both as a county council member and as the manager of the Virgil Grissom Municipal Airport.
Jeff Lytton voted a five percent pay increase as Lawrence County Council member and manager Virgil Grissom Municipal Airport
Jeff Lytton's salary for being a county council member is about $8,200 and as airport manager $12,800 with the proposed five percent pay increases. Under Indiana State law this may be a conflict of interest by holding two paid county positions. Lytton voted on all three salary votes, without abstaining.
Julie Heweston reads a statement about her vote on raises in an earlier meeting last month.
Lawrence County council woman Julie Hewston, whose daughter Anah Gouty serves as a Juvenile Referee. Heweston did not violate the state's nepotism law because Gouty's salary is set by the state and not the county council.
Next Thursday, October 20th, county council members will vote on new tax levies by decreasing the tax levies for Civil Defense and Lawrence County Health Department. A increase to the levies for the Virgil Grissom Municipal Airport.
Lawrence County Zephyr will monitor developments in the Lawrence County Council 2023 Budget process.
For breaking news, news and information subscribe to lczephyr.org or follow us on Facebook.