• Bill Raines

Editorial: No Closed Meeting for the Lawrence County Health Department

LAWRENCE COUNTY - OCTOBER 21, 2022 - The 2023 Lawrence County Council Budget is in the books for the 2023 Budget year.


In this year's Budget hearings, the Lawrence County Health Department did not get their closed-door Salary Committee meeting when the proposed levies were suggested.


The Lawrence County Health Department already short-staffed and working through many public health emergencies got blindsided by a levy decrease for their department and a levy increase for the Lawrence County Aviation Fund.


(Lawrence County Health Department speaks during last night's Lawrence County Council meeting however, the levies were already set to be cut for the department)


The salary committee meets before each and every meeting with certain department heads to pitch their budget requests, additional appropriation, or budget transfer before the full council hears the request.


Lawrence County Salary Commitee Janie "Craig" Chenault, President Scott Smith and Vice-President Jeff Lytton


The salary committee consists of Lawrence County Council president Scott Smith, Vice- President Jeff Lytton and Janie " Craig" Chenault. If the salary committee approves the request that is three votes before it reaches the full council during the regular meeting.


Lawrence County Auditor Staggs also requested that the Aviation Fund be increased by 165 percent to help fund projects at the Virgil Grissom Airport. ]


Lawrence County Health Department was never notified by the Lawrence County Council of the proposed changes. The salary committee did not invite the Lawrence County Health Department to discuss the proposed changes to the levy which will change the amount of revenues coming into that department.


Lawrence County Council members were encouraged by Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs to cut the levies to the 911 Fund, Lawrence County Civil Defense, and Lawrence County Health Department because all of them had healthy balances and cash reserves in their funds.


The Lawrence County Council decided to leave the 911 Fund alone and went ahead with the proposed levy cuts to the Civil Defense.


LONG BUDGET PROCESS FOR 2023


During this budget process the three percent pay increase for all employees died due to a 3 to 3 vote.


Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham


Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham Not satisfied with the vote, Sheriff Mike Branham met behind closed doors with salary committee at the next county council meeting. Sheriff Branham made a pitch for a five percent pay increase for deputies, jailers, and 911 dispatchers.


Sheriff Branham was then allowed to speak at the next council meeting; by Lawrence County President Scott Smith who also serves as a liaison for the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department.


A motion was made by Vice- President Jeff Lytton, who during the council meeting with the council voting 6-0 for a three percent pay increase for county employees and elected leaders, and five percent pay increase for the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department.


The Lawrence County Council never rescinded their original vote as required by " Robert Rules of Order". The council just voted to approve the new salary increase.


Several attend last night's council meeting


The county employees became visibly upset with one county employee could be heard saying this is "b*** sh^t" following the vote.


County employees still dissatisfied attended the next county council meeting in full force, with County Council member Janie " Craig" Chenault making the motion and Rick Butterfield seconding the motion to approve a five percent pay increase across the board for everyone.



Lawrence County Council members were encouraged by Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs to cut the levies to the 911 Fund, Lawrence County Civil Defense, and Lawrence County Health Department because all of them had healthy balances and cash reserves in their funds.



(Julie Chase (left) is a liaison for Purdue Educators and Lawrence County Health Department who she recommended cutting their budgets, Rick Butterfield serves as liasion for the Public Defenders who budget has expanded to over $1 Million, and Janie Craig Chenault serves on the salary committee making recommendations to increase the salaries for elected leaders during this year, and last year's budget. Chenault says the elected leader use their own money for campaigns and need reimbursed for their campaigning)



Each year there are winners and losers for certain departments and offices of the county.


Winnners:

  • Lawrence County Sheriff's Department improved wages for Deputies, Jailers, and Dispatchers

  • Virgil Grissom Municipal Airport - 165 Budget Increase

  • Public Defenders Office - $1.1 Million Budget Increase

  • Lawrence County Elected Leaders - Another 5 percent pay increase over the 17 pay increase over last year

Losers:

  • Lawrence County 4-H Fair Preservation Fund - The Lawrence County Youth was not considered a priority by the county council

  • Lawrence County Health Department - Women and children of this community will be impacted by the cuts to levies and revenue streams by the county council

  • Lawrence County Purdue Educators - For the second year in a row, Lawrence County programs for youth and schools will be impacted by partial funding for a third educator. The grants to preserve the funding came from out of county funding sources.

Jeff Lytton proposed removing the funding for the Lawrence County preservation fund, and Julie Blackwell Chase asked that the third educator be cut for from the Lawrence County Extension Office.


Lawrence County Council woman Chase serves as liaison for both the Lawrence County Extension Office and Lawrence County Health Department and did not advocate for either department during the budget process.


This year's Lawrence County Budget was not the least bit conservative from a Republican point of view as being fiscally responsible. The health and safety of the community could be impacted.


The judicial and law enforcement of this year's budget is approximately $11 Million and youth services were cut about $700,000.


Hopefully, next year's budget process will be easier and more professional for department heads and county departments. The budget has increased to $29 Million in 2023.


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