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Council hears budget recommendations

The Harrison County Council Monday night ‘ as it does each year before delving into the line-by-line budget ‘ heard recommendations from financial adviser Frank Cummings about the requested budget from county departments.
Cummings said the requested county general budget needs to be reduced by $5.2 million or the county needs to find more revenue. The requested budget is 18 percent higher than last year’s approved budget, as most department heads request higher amounts for budget lines knowing the county council can trim where it sees fit.
‘There’s no way that can be funded,’ Cummings said of the requested budget.
Cummings said he’d recommend something more like a 1-to-5 percent total budget increase.
‘Something more reasonable, if at all possible,’ he said.
Other than the county general budget, Cummings said the ambulance service (Emergency Medical Services) budget is always an issue with the county. The hospital comes to the council at the end of the year to request payment for the shortfall from the cost for services versus the amount of money budgeted. For now, the county agrees to pay the overage with riverboat gaming funds to continue to receive first-class ambulance service.
The health department budget request was 15 percent higher, a figure Cummings said was more than what is warranted.
The local road and street fund and the highway department request (a 3-percent increase) were recommended for approval. However, the parks department budget, with an increase of 19 percent, will have to be cut, Cummings said.
The council has yet to set special meeting dates to continue work on the 2015 budget. The final budget will be read and approved at the second regularly-scheduled meeting in October.
In other business Monday, the council addressed one of three job compensation increase requests, that of engineer Kevin Russel.
Russel requested an increase to a $75,000 salary, up from just more than $60,000. The job description and compensation committee, consisting of councilmen Gary Davis and Phil Smith (also Councilman Gordon Pendleton, who was unable to attend), met with Russel and Commissioner Kenny Saulman to discuss their comparison of the entire package ‘ salary and benefits ‘ for Harrison County’s engineer versus other engineers from similar counties. In their scenario (including salary, health care, Public Employee Retirement Fund, take-home vehicle, longevity, holidays, vacation days and more) Russel’s overall package worth totaled $88,077 compared to $87,853 for Lawrence County; $87,211, Adams County; $85,246, Whitley County; $81,186, Dubois County; and $78,969, Daviess County.
The recommendation from Davis and Smith to the council was to deny the request and give Russel the same raise, yet-to-be determined, as everyone else.
The problem with the formula, according to Russel, is that Davis and Smith calculated the health care cost to the county, while Russel calculated what it cost him (the employee), out of his pocket, compared to the other counties.
In Russel’s scenario, the difference between his current compensation and that of Lawrence County (which he said he’s been offered) is more than $12,000. Lawrence County reportedly offered Russel a salary of $75,000. Russel plans to spend today (Wednesday) in Lawrence County with the highway department superintendent.
‘How would you have any hope of hiring an engineer at ($60,000), when the market is the other direction?’ Russel asked.
Saulman said Russel, who has worked for the county for 15 years, has added value.
‘He saves us money you all probably never see,’ Saulman said.
As an example, he said, instead of using the more expensive method of box culverts, Russel does just as good a job on roads with pipes, such as on St. John’s Church Road.
‘He was born here, raised here; he’s a big part of this county,’ Saulman said.
He went on to say now is not a good time to switch engineers, with the changes at the Lanesville interchange connector road ahead.
Saulman said Lawrence County found Russel, not the other way around.
‘When you’re county engineer of the year, people notice,’ Saulman said.
The council, with only five members present (Pendleton and Councilman Richard Gerdon were absent), did not vote on the matter.

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