Delaware County Financial Woes Continue

It’s Been a Stressful Year To Be a Delaware County Public Official

So, you want to run for political office and serve your fellow citizens, taxpayers, employees, and union?

It’s a thankless job, or maybe worse. President of the County Council, Kevin Nemyer (D) knew before the meeting that he and other members of council wouldn’t be very popular. After Council’s first special public meeting on Friday, we’re pretty sure he was correct.

It seems like discussions about the financial condition of the county have been going on for years, and to some degree it has, but local newspapers like to take cheap shots about public officials and so do our citizens for good government. Public officials have been doing their best to maintain government services to residents in an economy that has been declining for decades.

Revenues have declined for a variety of reasons but demand for services remain the same. In fact, as our infrastructure ages, many would say that demand for government services has increased.  Hard decisions have been made, but the revenues just aren’t there for public officials.

Therefore, we’ve witnessed the sense of urgency increase with both the county commissioners and council. Two weeks ago the county commissioners decided to hire government finance consultants, Umbaugh and Associates. According to their website, “No one who works in local government would say that financial management is “simple.” Your constituents never think about how time consuming your day-to-day tasks can be.”

For their services, the county will pay up to $25 thousand to develop a comprehensive financial plan and deliver by mid-June so officials can make informed decisions about what actions to take.

Hiring financial consultants from Indianapolis drew much criticism from the usual anti-government groups in Muncie, including Micah Maxwell, who argued that county employees weren’t doing their jobs if they couldn’t produce their own financial reports. I guess Mr. Maxwell falls into the “demanding constituents” that Umbaugh website had in mind.

As a sidenote, two democrats and one republican commissioner unanimously approved hiring the financial consultants.

Then last week, council members got to continue the discussion in both their regular session and a special meeting on Friday.

The county council has already depleted the rainy day fund to meet its financial obligations, and there is real concern that future payrolls are in jeopardy, so Councilman Mike Jones was asked to research and recommend a tax anticipation loan last month. The results of the initial assessment concluded that the county could borrow up to $3.7 million for its obligations through the next tax draw.

As expected, a long conversation ensued about whether they should wait until the Umbaugh report was completed in mid-June, or start discussions on their own. Council President Kevin Nemyer recommended that it would be premature to request budget cuts since many of the budget items like health insurance and benefits requires the commissioners approval – his suggesting was to wait. Apparently, he was in the minority.

After a brief discussion, the council chose to reopen the 2013 budget and hold special meetings to begin cutting costs. The problem is, the council doesn’t have the authority to make the cuts. They can only recommend the commissioners make cuts so they recommended that Paid Holidays be reduced from the remaining 8 to only 3, but the potential dollars saved were debated – at length.

It was also recommended that county employees increase their portion of health insurance premiums from the existing 13.5% to 20%, and they will transfer $400 thousand from a EMS capital improvement to County General to help pay expenses. Also, if you’re a county department head, plan on justifying your employees use of cell phones. Councilman Ron Quakenbush (R) wanted to know how the county’s business was accomplished prior to cell phones – how 1980’s of him. We also didn’t have computers in the late 70’s and early 80’s so maybe our public servants could do without computers.

The County Council will meet again on Thursday, May 2nd at 2:00pm to continue compiling a list of recommended cuts for the commissioners. However, while these meetings might give appearances that they’re being proactive, we wonder if Council President Kevin Nemyer was correct in recommending that they wait until the report is completed by the financial consultants since the actual savings per recommended cut, especially a complicated area like health benefits, was more of a guessing game.

However, if you’re still wanting to serve as an elected official in Delaware County, we recommend that you attend the special meeting next Thursday – especially Micah Maxwell who expressed displeasure with our public servants seeking assistance with gathering financial information from consultants outside the county on his blog:

In just reading that simple information, there are five different departments with a combined 13 individuals plus support staff with specific paid responsibilities of overseeing, administering, accounting and/or collecting finances for the County. Additionally, almost every department, board or commission in the county has a person or persons who have specific duties to account for and administer funds.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.
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