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HCLL’s funding from county in jeopardy

HCLL’s funding from county in jeopardy HCLL’s funding from county in jeopardy

If the county’s 2021 budget doesn’t change, Harrison County Lifelong Learning will operate in 2021 without any county funding.

During the latest Harrison County Council 2021 budget workshops, held last week, five councilors voted to not provide any funding to the education center, which had requested $175,000. The amount was higher than what the organization is receiving this year. The council had said all nonprofits should expect to see a 10% cut. No other amounts were proposed.

“No other nonprofit is getting an increase,” said councilman Kyle Nix, who is also a Lifelong Learning board member. “All the other nonprofits have seen a 10% reduction for 2021 over what their current budget is in 2020.”

Nix said losing this funding doesn’t mean Lifelong Learning has to close.

Harrison County Lifelong Learning’s executive director, Tom Fields, told the council his organization has $185,000 that will get it through 2020 and at least some of 2021.

Lifelong Learning has received as little as $150,000 a year in the past.

Councilor Holli Castetter made the motion to not send any county funding to the education center, located in Corydon, next year.

“All I am hearing is negative things,” Castetter said.

She added that two HCLL board members, whom she would not name, stated the organization is a waste of taxpayer money.

Council president Donnie Hussung and Councilwoman Jennie Capelle voted against the motion to not send county money to the organization in 2021.

The motion was made during the Aug. 31 budget workshop. At the following night’s workshop, Capelle made a motion to reinstate the funding, but no councilmember seconded the motion.

Capelle is also a Lifelong Learning board member.

“We were fighting internally, and we didn’t even know it,” Capelle said about the board.

Fields appeared in front of the council Sept. 1 to say he was surprised to hear about the decision. He said Lifelong Learning has made changes to meet the county’s requests, such as providing more classes than it ever had and brought on board members who have a better understanding of education and the needs of local businesses.

“What does it say about how this county supports education, how this county supports our local businesses?” asked Fields.

The 2020 Harrison County Council is comprised of several councilors who have worked for or with schools. Hussung was once a trustee for Lanesville Community School  Corp.,  and  Gary Byrne formerly served on the North Harrison Community School Corp. Councilor Ross Schulz is employed by North Harrison schools, and Capelle and Castetter both work for South Harrison Community School Corp.

Fields said one of Lifelong Learning’s goals is to be the first place employers think of when they need to find skilled workers.

Capelle said it should be the key driver for the county to participate in Indiana’s Next Level Jobs initiative, which provides workers free training to Hoosiers who want to learn in-demand skills.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the state expanded the program to allow any Hoosier, even college graduates who were not previously eligible, to participate through the end of the year.

Employers can also use the initiative to further train workers already on staff.

Capelle said with the unemployment numbers higher now than they have been in a decade due to the pandemic, this would be the time to use the county’s rainy day fund to help train potential local workers. She and Nix agreed the county has approximately $22 million set aside.

“If a pandemic isn’t a rainy day to use that, I don’t know what is,” Capelle said.

Schulz said the county has other obligations to fund and the council doesn’t know what sort of revenue it is looking at in the future.

“It’s not just COVID that hit you guys,” Schulz said. “We got $13 million shortfall in our riverboat.”

The council is scheduled to resume its budget workshop sessions today (Wednesday) at 6:30 p.m.

Other nonprofits are currently set to receive the following amounts for the upcoming year:

Harrison County Community Services, $247,500;

Harrison County Soil & Water Conservation District, $150,000;

Boys & Girls Club of Harrison-Crawford Counties, $135,000;

Blue River Services Inc. grant match, $100,000;

Harrison County 4-H, $50,148;

The Next Step, $40,950;

Comfort House child advocacy center, $31,500;

4-H Building Fund, $29,700;

Harrison County Agricultural Society, $24,300;

Harrison County Community Drug Free, $9,000;

Leadership Harrison County, $9,000; and

Harrison County Chaplain’s Association, $7,000.

Another matter the council worked on is finding further ways to compensate employees who have longevity with the county.

Hussung said the county currently caps extra benefits after 15 years of county employment, which compensates an additional $750 a year each year. This proposal would go on to further reward an employee’s longevity.

“At 20 years of service, they would go to $1,125,” Hussung said.

Each five years would add another $375 annual bonus. An employee with 40 years of service would receive $2,265 annually.

“We’ve got some dedicated people who have been with us for a long time and after 15 years there is no acknowledgment of that,” Hussung said.

The council has also asked the commissioners to give employees an additional one or two personal days, which Hussung said employees had taken away in recent years.

Finally, Hussung asked the county to implement any work done in emergency situations, such as the highway department working the roads, to be paid at an overtime rate.

“Right now, if an employee happens to have a holiday and comes back to work those eight hours, that holiday pay don’t count in the calculation of overtime,” Hussung said, adding that employees are then penalized by the holiday.

The Harrison County Board of Commissioners has taken the proposal under advisement.