County council seeks to keep 2014 property tax increase lower

The Huntington County auditor had some unwelcome news for members of the Huntington County Council at their meeting Monday, Nov. 25, that hopefully will be avoided with some belt-tightening in spending.

Cindy Yeiter said her office has received a "heads-up" from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance that the 2014 property tax rate will see a substantial increase, amounting to $1.5 million.

"We had to put our heads together and we had to figure out a plan of action because once we get the final tax rate, we only have 10 days to turn it around," she said.

Yeiter added she has not yet received a final number from the state on what the rate will be.

The auditor's plan of action involves reducing spending among county departments between July and December of this year. She then asked the departments to give her a figure on what money they could give back from their 2013 budgets. However, she did not have enough time to tally up the multiple line-item figures and draft a resolution in time for the council's meeting.

The solution was to take a single line item from the council's budget to declare to the DLGF that the county is reducing its expenditures for this year, which would bring down the tax rate assessed to the county for 2014.

"We are in good shape at this point in time," Yeiter said. "By reducing this year's expenditures the council gives us a bigger operating balance to satisfy the DLGF for next year, and also saves the tax rate."

Council President John Hacker said the county has built up a reserve in funds in the past three years through keeping departments lean on their budgets.

"It gives you an idea that maybe down the road we may have to do some more of that just to get our funds back in place," he said. "That's something to think about as we move forward."

Council members unanimously voted to accept the resolution; Councilman Todd Landrum was absent.

In other business, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Hakes received approval of the transfer of $10,918.06 from various line items in his budget to the Pauper Attorney fund, and received an additional $14,000 to the same fund.

Hakes explained the money is needed to pay for attorneys appointed in Child in Need of Services CHINS cases, termination cases, appeals and guardian ad litem appointments.

"It's one of those things that it's a pay-as-you-go basis," he said. "It's simply a matter of appointing attorneys to represent individuals on those cases that I mentioned, and by statute I'm required to do that."

The council also unanimously approved several other year-end transfers of funds between department budgets:

• Transferred $3,000 from the coroner's autopsy fund into the vehicle replacement fund to purchase a passenger van.

• Transferred $20,000 in the county clerk's chief deputy fund to the deputy clerk fund to pay for a staff member's salary; and $500 from the clerk's perpetuation fund to record keeping supplies.

• Transferred $9,500 from the public safety fund for overtime costs in the sheriff's department; $3,000 from the sheriff's med and dental prescriptions fund to jail equipment fund to pay for inmates' clothing and a jail study; and $2,821 for longevity pay for officers.

• Transferred $3,000 to the Superior Court adult probation fee fund.

The council also unanimously passed the 2014 salary ordinance and the 2014 budget. A motion to provide 2013 incentive increases for some county employees passed 5-1, with Councilman Joel Harris voting against it.