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Council adopts slight increase in 2003 spending

Harrison County’s money managers — the seven county council members — Monday night unanimously adopted a budget for next year’s services that should keep property taxes in line with the state’s allowable five-percent levy increase.
Final tax figures aren’t yet available, because the rates won’t be determined until assessed valuations have been set, said Auditor Karen Engleman.
But the county general fund spending comes to $7 million, about $1.2 million less than requested by the county’s various agencies and departments for next year, and about $400,000 more than last year’s spending.
After no questions arose from the audience following Monday night’s final reading of the budget, council chair Gary Davis called for a motion from the council to approve (or disprove) the figures.
Councilman Kenneth Saulman’s motion to approve the spending plan, seconded by Councilman Ralph Sherman, passed unanimously.
Then, moving from the “needs vs. wants” categories so often mentioned by former long-term council president Peter J. Schickel of Lanesville, the council approved $300,000 from riverboat revenue for the YMCA of Harrison County and Friends of Harrison County Youth to build a road into the shared Keller fields in Corydon and provide sewer, water and electrical service at the multi-million-dollar planned complex (see story above).
Also from riverboat revenue, the council approved the usual monthly revenue sharing plus $500,000 toward the highway department’s long-range equipment replacement fund; $150,000 for the care of patients and inmates; $110,000 for Harrison County’s 12 townships based on population; $100,000 in operational expenses for Harrison County Community Services (which serves the poor and others in crisis situations); $74,330 for infrastructure and railroad crossing improvements on Harrison Way leading past the highway garage and into the Lucas Oil Co. development; $35,000 to help defray tuition for Leadership Harrison County students, and $20,000 to cover insurance deductibles.
That spending totals about $1.5 million, which includes revenue sharing of $246,209.
The council also approved additional spending of $298,500 from the county general fund. Most of that, $175,000, will cover increased health insurance costs. Another $75,000 will take care of anticipated increases in medical services for inmates.
At the suggestion of Councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads, the council took a moment to commend and thank Harrison County’s volunteer firefighters and other emergency workers in light of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks and today’s anniversary.
“I want it in the minutes that we thank them,” Rhoads said. “They do a really good job for us.”
The council also briefly discussed approving funds from the riverboat to pay down school debts to lower property taxes.
Davis told the audience that last year the council had approved $3.5 million for the three public school districts, to be allocated according to assessed valuation in each district.
“In return, it reduced individual tax rates,” he said, adding that Councilman Alvin Brown had asked that the issue be on the agenda Monday night so it can be brought up for a vote at the council’s next meeting, Sept. 23. The appropriation will be advertised for that purpose.
Here are some highlights of next year’s budget:
Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau
A reduction in the amount of spending proposed by the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) could hamstring that agency’s operations next year, but the council stressed it only reduced the budget to keep a close eye on its spending.
The council approved only $595,000 of the $950,000 the CVB had sought. This covers only CVB administrative costs. Additional funds for programming may be appropriated after January, but any such appropriation would come with additional council control over how the money is spent.
From the CVB point of view, however, there are no guarantees of further appropriation, and this makes planning more complicated.
That leaves no clear path for next year’s promotional programs by the newly hired director, James L. Epperson, expected to start here in mid-October.
“The biggest disappointment,” said CVB board chair Michael Wiseman, “is that it will delay the impact those dollars could have for Harrison County.”
All monies for the CVB come from the innkeepers tax and gaming revenue received by the state.
Salaries, perks for workers
Harrison County’s salaried and hourly employees and elected officials who earn less than $25,000 annually will see an increase next year of three percent; those earning $25,000 or more will get a $750 raise.
Council members will each get $10,300 next year; the three commissioners will receive $19,390 each. Both salaries represent a three-percent increase.
Facing a 22-percent increase or more in medical insurance premiums next year, the council appropriated money for dependent-care coverage from riverboat revenue. Individuals without dependents will continue to pay five percent of their insurance premiums, and the taxpayers pick up the difference in the county general account.
Animal control
Although no animal control facility is in the works, the council approved some operating funds for next year, including an increase from $10,000 to $15,000 for the spay-neuter clinic.
Additionally, $18,000 was OK’d for a game warden’s salary part of the year; $2,500 for office supplies, and $2,500 for utilities, for a total budget of $38,000. The commissioners had requested $62,000.