Pulaski Council Aiming to Return Spending to 2016 Levels, as Budget Balancing Efforts Continue

As Pulaski County looks for a way to get its finances back on track, officials’ next step may be to look back at 2016 spending. Consultant Jeffrey Peters told the county council Monday that was the last time revenue exceeded expenditures. “In 2016, you brought in a little above $10 million, you spent about $10 million,” he explained. “This year, we anticipate your revenue stream would be about $10 million.”

His recommendation going forward is to bring spending as close to that $10 million figure as possible by having department heads try to base their 2020 budget requests on their 2016 spending. If the council determines that more money is needed to maintain adequate government services, it could then look into some adjustments to the local income tax structure. That could potentially mean lowering the portion of income taxes designed to offset property taxes, but raising other types of income taxes to help with operations.

All of that would have to take place within the next few weeks, in order to give the state a chance to review any proposed changes. The council would then have to hold a public hearing and adopt the changes by the end of October, in order for them to take effect in 2020.

But that may not be enough. The special income tax that was put in place for the construction of the Justice Center is set to end next year, taking with it hundreds of thousands of dollars used for jail operations. To keep the county’s budget balanced in the future, Peters said the county will likely need help from the state legislature.

“We had talked about before that you might want to pursue special legislation, and in that form, ask for more maximum levy and more property tax ability,” he reminded council members. “So I would think, if you get to the end of this budget exercise, hopefully, you’ll be in a position where you can calculate ‘How short am I to being balanced?’ and then give that amount to your legislator.” The plan would be to pursue the legislative fix during the 2020 session, so it could take effect with the 2021 budget.

Council Member Ken Boswell was hopeful that legislators would be supportive. He felt that while local income taxes may be a good revenue source for counties with larger populations, they might not work as well for places like Pulaski County. “It’s not just Pulaski County. It’s most agricultural counties, not only in Indiana, but throughout the country, that are running into issues with populations decreasing, incomes decreasing within them counties, and having to come up with ways to make up revenue,” he added.

Peters’ presentation to the county council came at the start of two full days of budget hearings with department heads. Council Member Kathi Thompson noted that they have their work cut out for themselves. “I think we’re going to have some excruciating meetings today because even though we met with some of the folks before here, we did not cut enough and we didn’t meet with everybody,” she said.

Budget hearings continue today in the Pulaski County Highway Garage, ending with a discussion on the county’s salary matrix this afternoon.