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Most HC nonprofits to see ’22 funding unchanged

Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

The Harrison County Council moved further in finalizing the 2022 county budget after marathoning through a meeting last Tuesday that lasted about 4-1/2  hours.

After tackling county employee salaries at previous meetings, allotting a 4% raise across the board, this meeting wasn’t as generous or gentle as money had to be saved in other areas.

While most nonprofits and community services that receive funding from the county requested a higher budget than the 2021 fiscal year, most were given their budgeted amounts from 2021 for the upcoming year.

For instance, organizations like Harrison County Community Services, Blue River Services Inc., The Next Step, Boys & Girls Club of Harrison and Crawford Counties and Leadership Harrison County were all allocated the same amount they received in 2021.

One budget request that took some time for the council members to hash out was from Harrison County Lifelong Learning, an organization that partners with several educational institutions and community resources to increase the skills and abilities of local residents. Its request for the 2022 year was about $175,000.

Councilwoman Jennie Capelle, who also serves as vice chair on the board of directors at Lifelong Learning, expressed her belief at the meeting that the budget request should be fully funded. She said she believes that Lifelong Learning missed out on grants in previous years due to the county not putting full support behind the facility.

Councilman Brad Wiseman echoed his support for Lifelong Learning, saying there were many well-known employers in the county who support it and even serve on the board and, that if the county wants more impactful businesses to come to the area, this would be the right thing to fund.

“Our push last year was to make them more self-sustaining, but they may never get to that point,” Wiseman said to the other council members. “However, there are businesses looking to come in for development and they want to know if there is something like this in the community for training that they can use. It does help for economic development to know there is something like this for employees.”

Councilman Kyle Nix made a motion to fund Lifelong Learning $135,000, which he said was a 10% reduction from the $150,000 the council allocated a previous year.

Capelle said this would knock the wind out of its sail and force the facility to simply “survive.”

Nix’s motion failed 3-4, with Capelle, Wiseman, council chair Donnie Hussung and councilman Richard Gerdon opposing.

After much back and forth, including Nix saying he would like to hear more throughout the year from Tom Fields, Lifelong Learning’s director, in order to build a better relationship between the county and the facility, Wiseman made a motion, seconded by Gerdon, to allocate $157,500 to Lifelong Learning’s 2022 budget. The motion carried 6-1, with councilwoman Holli Castetter opposed.

The council also decided to keep property taxes the same as 2021, but many council members noted their desire to change this in the coming years.

Hussung said it could be seen as a gradual reduction over a few years span but that something would have to change in the future.

Capelle said she believes superintendents of the three school corporations should be given further heads up than right at budget time, as they are impacted by property taxes, and that they should be given more time to discuss budget plans if that change would have occurred.

In that same vein, Wiseman said the council needs to hold themselves accountable to have these groups come in the spring, so that when they get into these conversations they can better prepare community organizations for what the council is considering.

The council also debated a raise in salary for a vacant Harrison County police chief position Sheriff Nick Smith is attempting to fill.

Smith told the council that the current position doesn’t make much more than a patrolman but requires much more time and duties. Most police chiefs, according to a salary study, earn about 75% of the sheriff’s annual salary, he said.

“Nick has done more to save money for this county than anyone else,” Wiseman said. “I don’t think this is something he is doing just to do. I don’t think this is just an ask; it’s a need.”

The council voted unanimously, in a motion made by Nix, to set the police chief salary at $72,000. This vote came after a motion by Wiseman to set it at $75,000 failed.

Wiseman later asked the council to just keep in mind that 75% of Smith’s salary would mean the police chief should be earning $81,750.

The council, which intends to finish the budget sometime in September, had another meeting last night (Tuesday). The council will also discuss the budget Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the government center in Corydon.