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Budget talks include police officers’ pay

The Harrison County Council is in the midst of its budget workshops, with plans to finish tomorrow (Thursday) or sometime next week.
While the budget will not be final until the second reading, which is planned for the council’s Oct. 26 meeting, it appears the majority of county employees will not see raises and the county will spend the same on insurance as it did a year ago, which could mean significant changes to employees’ plans.
Estimates show an increase of 30 percent or higher for the same health insurance plan, so the county will be left with no option but to find a different plan or have the employees make up the extra costs.
Exceptions to the salary freeze may include officers of the sheriff’s department, the engineer and the parks superintendent.
Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye requested a total increase of $216,000-plus to be given to road officers to compete ‘ or at least come close ‘ to neighboring county and municipality salaries.
‘We have 27 full-time officers, and there are 18 new faces due to 66-percent turnover,’ Seelye said.
Seelye said, in a recent budget hearing session with the council, that even his captain makes less money than area patrol officers.
Harrison County officers are well-trained and become attractive to other departments, Seelye said.
Since 2012, Harrison County has produced two top guns, one class president, one sharp shooter, six expert marksmen (out of only seven) and one officer who shattered physical fitness records, according to police academy representatives. A Harrison County officer also is currently top in academic scores this year.
Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk, who spoke in favor of the sheriff’s request at the budget hearing, said that, when he came into office in 2010, there was poor morale within the sheriff’s department stemming from lack of training among other factors.
Now, however, it’s a different story.
‘The bar is set very high,’ Schalk said.
Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop told the council Harrison County has one of the most professional sheriff’s departments around.
Former Harrison County Chief Wayne Kessinger took the same position at Floyd County because the pay is so much higher in his department, Loop said.
Kessinger won’t recruit out of Harrison County, Loop said, because of his respect for Seelye.
Clark County Chief Deputy Brad Jones also complimented Harrison County officers and said, if any applied in Clark County, they would be hired due to the amount of training they receive.
Even if the additional appropriation request is approved for next year’s budget, Seelye said his officers will still be paid less than area officers; that’s how big the gap is now.
‘Any of these men can drive 15 minutes and make $20,000 more a year,’ he said.
Last year, the council approved two new officers for the department this year and one additional officer each year through 2019 for a total of six (four road officers and two corrections officers).
Seelye thanked the council for the additional officers and the improved retirement pension plan that also was approved last year.
Last week, the council unanimously approved a raise for county engineer Kevin Russel to $72,500. It also approved a cut in its funding to the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., from $500,000 to $450,000. The vote to do so was 5-1, with Council Chair Gary Davis against (Councilwoman Holli Castetter was absent). The motion was made by Jim Heitkemper and seconded by Councilman Kyle Nix.