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Cash-strapped Crawford announces government layoffs

Faced with severe cash flow problems because of a lack of property tax money due to the state’s failure to approve tax rates, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, with the recommendation of the county council, Thursday voted to lay-off 14 full-time county employees effective Friday at midnight.
Seated beside his six fellow council members in a crowded courtroom at the Crawford County Judicial Complex, President Jerry Brewer opened the council’s meeting by saying it was ‘a meeting I didn’t really want to have and am not looking forward to.’
‘This isn’t a situation where we overspent or budgeted,’ Daniel Crecelius, the council’s vice president, said. ‘This is just a situation where we haven’t had any income.’
The council, in an attempt to keep its General Fund in the black, has borrowed from non-property tax funds, including $350,000 from County Economic Development Income Tax and hundreds of thousands of gaming dollars it receives from Orange and Switzerland counties. It also has approved the Dept. of Child Services borrowing up to $400,000 from a bank, putting the county at the limit of what it can borrow from an outside institution.
Now, council members said, they have from nowhere else to borrow.
Acting on the council’s recommendation, the commissioners, during their regular meeting that followed, voted 3-0 to lay off the following number of positions per office: Extension Office, one; Prosecutor’s Office, one; Assessor’s Office, one; Recorder’s Office, two; Treasurer’s Office, two; Auditor’s Office, two; Clerk’s Office, two; Judge’s Office, one; Reassessment, one; and health department, one.
In addition, a part-time custodian, as well as all part-time personnel hired for platting, will be laid off. Also, the probation department has agreed to pay three of its employees from one of its discretionary funds, removing the salaries from the General Fund, and the Prosecutor’s Office will lay off one person and take on the person’s pay from a discretionary fund.
The commissioners, again acting in agreement with the council, also approved the county continuing to pay its share of the laid-off employees’ health insurance premiums and the employees keeping their vacation, sick and personal days, as well as longevity status. The commissioners also issued a call-back date of Jan. 3, 2008, but said some employees may be brought back sooner if finances become available or if they are needed.
Each department head will determine who will be laid off in his or her office. The only exception is the Extension Office, where the commissioners named a secretary who will be laid off.
District 3 Commissioner James Schultz, who seconded District 1 Commissioner Larry Bye’s motion, which was also voted in favor of by President Randy Gilmore, said he understands that some offices will be affected more than others and he hopes they can help each other. It is a difficult decision, he said, ‘but I think it’s one we have to make.’
Brewer, during the earlier council meeting, said it appears that the Indiana Dept. of Local Government Finance, which must approve the 2006 payable 2007 property tax rates before the county can send out tax bills, is overwhelmed, as Crawford is not the only county to not have sent out bills.
‘I believe they’ve got more to do than they have time,’ Crecelius added.
Marcus Burgher IV, the council’s attorney, added that a change in leadership at the DLGF has also slowed the process. He said the new DLGF Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave recently sent a letter to several counties, including Crawford, stating that specific information was needed before her office would approve the tax rates. The problem, he said, is Crawford County had already provided some of that information and even had confirmation from DLGF that it had been received. Another problem, he said, is some of the information the new commissioner was wanting were items that the DLGF had earlier agreed to give the county until October to provide.
Burgher explained that there has been a lot of finger-pointing going on, ‘but that’s holding us up on getting a tax rate.’
Ironically, after voting 6-1, with Councilman James Taylor casting the lone dissenting vote, to recommend the layoffs to the commissioners, the council, still in session, received notification that DLGF had just approved the county’s budget and tax rates.
However, earlier in the meeting, Crecelius said that since it takes some time to issue and collect tax bills and then prepare them for settlement, ‘even if (the rates are) approved today, it still isn’t going to’ alleviate the situation, a position Brewer reiterated after learning of the approved rate.
Brewer said the council deliberately didn’t include emergency personnel in its recommendations, believing doing so would have too much of a negative impact on the county.
‘We don’t want to interrupt emergency services,’ he said.
Schultz, later in the commissioners’ meeting, added that other areas of county government, like the highway department, also weren’t affected because they’re not funded by property tax dollars.
The council and commissioners hope the cuts, which are expected to save between $125,000 and $150,000, will get the county through the end of the year. Burgher, however, warned that the county potentially could be in the same position next year, since it will have to repay the funds from which it borrowed.
Both the council and the commissioners said they will take a pay cut in 2008. They said they realize the move won’t save the county much money, but it shows the laid-off employees they, too, are willing to sacrifice.
Several of the affected county employees attended the meetings, but none questioned the moves. The mood in the courthouse wasn’t of anger, but instead mostly of sadness, as the offices and halls were much quieter than usual.
One longtime courthouse employee called it the saddest day in her career with the county.