Allen County Council in July demanded across-the-board 2013 spending cuts of about 2.3 percent, but nine departments are seeking a total of $2.46 million more – with Sheriff Ken Fries accounting for more than 65 percent of the request.
But Fries' stated resolve is likely to be tested as Council considers the county budget next week.
“I cannot again with a clear conscience put in a budget that meets your expectations without feeling that I am putting not only my employees at risk but also the people of Allen County . . . (This) is the only budget I am putting through,” Fries wrote in a letter to Council members questioning their July decision to balance next year's budget through additional spending cuts instead of tapping the county's $14 million rainy day fund, as Auditor Tera Klutz had suggested.
Council has set Fries' 2013 general fund at about $20.8 million but he has appealed for about $1.6 million more – money he insists is needed to buy new cars (from zero allocation to $400,000), health care for inmates (from $850,000 to $1.25 million) and other expenses.
Fries recently requested another $400,000 to cover unbudgeted 2012 health-care costs and said another $400,000 may be necessary through the end of the year. He received $100,000, and next week Council will consider a plan to make another $224,000 available from a state-funded account. But Fries has noted the county has no choice but to pay inmates' ever-growing medical bills because it is legally required to cover their pre-existing medical needs.
Some Council members, however, believe Fries should pay for new vehicles from his so-called “commissary account,” which is funded by fees paid by inmates and their families for toiletries, phone calls and other items not provided by the county.
Other departments appealing Council's spending-cut directive include the city-county emergency communications department, which is seeking another $591,196; building department ($131,963); prosecutor ($89,390); commissioners ($54,731); coroner ($24,506); parks and recreation ($8,436); homeland security ($6,659) and Wayne Township assessor ($3,761). The departments have requested a total general fund of about $85.9 million, but Council wants to spend about $83.46 million.
Council President Larry Brown said the building department's request for new equipment could be granted because the expense could be recovered through fees. But the joint communications department's request could be a “bone of contention” because it is seeking money for rental expenses even though a permanent location has not been identified and the city and county are still negotiating their respective shares of the department's expenses.
Parks Superintendent Jeff Baxter, meanwhile, wrote Council members that it may be necessary to close parks one day per week in 2013 if the appeal is denied.
Klutz, who earlier suggested Council ease budget constraints by tapping the rainy day fund for $1.5 million next year, said she may try again next week to convince Council of the need to withdraw at least $1 million or so. Faced with the increased cost of employee medical care and pensions and reduced tax revenue, spending can't be cut indefinitely without affecting vital services, she said. It may be possible to cut employee medical costs by going with a single discount-offering provider, she added.
The rainy day fund was intended to compensate for temporary shortfalls, but Klutz said the uncertain economic future clouds its use. “When does this become 'normal'?” she asked.
Fries, however, is more concerned with the present.
“Please let me and my department do the job that we are bound by Indiana law to do,” he wrote.