Wednesday, November 26, 2014

County officials talk 2014 budgets

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 7/8/2013

Taxpayers might have some questions for Franklin County’s department heads.

Community members have an opportunity 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday to meet with county department heads, as well as City of Ottawa officials, at the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Chambers, 1428 S. Main St., Suite 2, Ottawa, for an open house budget forum to discuss proposed budgets for the 2014 year, Lisa Johnson, Franklin County administrator and counselor, said.

Taxpayers might have some questions for Franklin County’s department heads.

Community members have an opportunity 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday to meet with county department heads, as well as City of Ottawa officials, at the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Chambers, 1428 S. Main St., Suite 2, Ottawa, for an open house budget forum to discuss proposed budgets for the 2014 year, Lisa Johnson, Franklin County administrator and counselor, said.

“What I’ve seen city and county staff do that I think is really a great opportunity for people who come, is that they put information out about their departments,” Johnson said. “Because everybody sees numbers and talks about budgets, but those numbers reflect a service. So it’s a chance for people to actually figure out what you get for the amount of money [in each department budget].”

Budget proposals for 2014 were presented to county commissioners during a three-day period of study sessions, Johnson said. The open house budget forum gives community members an opportunity to look at department budget proposals and ask questions.

“All the department heads are there, and I don’t think you need to come in knowing anything, I think you can just look at the information and ask questions,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s going to have information about their departments, so it’s a great chance for everybody to meet the people running the departments, and they can talk to them about what they’re doing.”

All of the proposed budgets are available on the Franklin County website — under the “Government” tab’s “Board of County Commissioners” and “Agendas and Minutes” sections — for community members to view before Thursday’s forum, Johnson said.

After the county commissioners have viewed and discussed all departmental and outside agencies’ proposed budgets, the board will vote to change the budgets or leave them as-is and adopt the budget, Johnson said. Some departments have proposed an increase in their budgets from the 2013 year, while others have requested less or stayed the same. Departments with the most change from 2013 to 2014 include emergency management, health department, appraiser’s office, county clerk’s office, sheriff’s office, county attorney’s office, juvenile services and Prairie Paws Animal Shelter.

Emergency management

The emergency management department requested less funding because there isn’t a need to update the emergency operations plan for the county, Alan Radcliffe, emergency management director, said.

“It’s really kind of tricky when you’re doing a budget that you’re 10 months to a year out on,” Radcliffe said. “You look at last year’s budget and get the figures on how much we actually spent and take that funding and look at the next year and add where we need to and take off where we need to. The final number may stay the same, but I may move some line items around a little.”

The department was given $141,855 in 2013 and is requesting $130,705 for 2014, according to the first draft of the emergency management budget proposal.

Health department

The county’s health department is requesting a significant increase in funding for the 2014 year to help cover the rising costs of vaccines, Johnson said. In 2013, the health department was given $920,353, but is asking for $957,491 for 2014, according to the first draft of the budget — a more than $37,000 increase.

“We’ve got vaccine costs going up fairly substantially,” Johnson said. “[Vaccines are] getting harder to find, and the cost is going up every year. We budgeted another almost $41,000 for vaccines [for 2014].”

The health department was given $192,000 for vaccines in 2013. It’s requesting $233,000 this year, according to the proposal.

Appraiser’s office

According to the budget available online, the appraiser’s office is asking for an increase of more than $7,500, but county appraiser Philip Dudley said his department has recently made some changes to its proposed budget and will be requesting less than 2013.

“Our goal is to be as efficient as possible and turn back as much money to the general fund,” Dudley said. “The original budget in the work session and the one talked about Thursday night will be less.”

In 2013, the appraiser’s office was given $345,937. Dudley said he expects it to be lower, about $317,000, for 2014.

“We want to be as efficient as possible to do our best to get the mill rate down,” Dudley said. “We look at value and not just how much money [the mill levy] is going to raise.”

Dudley said he expects the budget proposal to also go down for 2015.

County clerk’s office

The Franklin County Clerk’s office is requesting a little more than an additional $15,000 for 2014 because of coming elections, Janet Paddock, Franklin County clerk, said.

“In the election area, what we’re facing next year is we’ll have an election for the governor, and so we expect elections in the even years to be more than the odd years,” Paddock said. “This year we only had a city-school election so we don’t expect such a big turnout in a city-school election as we do when we’re holding an election for the governor or the house of representatives, things like that.”

Sheriff’s office

The sheriff’s office’s overall budget is composed of three departments — the jail, emergency 911 center and the sheriff’s office itself, Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said.

Richards is requesting an increase of a little more than $24,000 in his office’s 2014 budget mostly because of the new lieutenant colonel position he recently formed and filled with former Undersheriff Steve Lunger, Richards said. Part of Lt. Col. Lunger’s salary is on the budget for the sheriff’s office, and the other is on the budget for the jail because Lunger has duties in both departments. The sheriff’s office is requesting $1,618,234 for 2014, up from $1,594,029 in 2013.

“The increase [in the sheriff’s budget] is because, for ammunition, we went from $3,500 to $7,000 because that’s what the price of ammo has done and it’s harder for us to order it now, so we have to order way in advance,” Richards said. “It doesn’t look like the $100,000 was an accurate number [for motor fuel], so we bumped it up to $120,000 because we expect fuel costs to go up.”

Richards recently got approval to purchase prisoner transport cages for seven of the Dodge Chargers in the sheriff’s fleet, he said. To cover the cost of having to possibly pay for more equipment if additional Chargers need to be purchased, equipment and machinery is proposed at $50,000 instead of $46,000, Richards said.

“[Previously] we budgeted for $46,000 and that would pay for vehicles, but that didn’t pay for any equipment like prisoner transport cages,” he said. “So we bumped that up to $50,000 so it could pay for two vehicles if we need to buy two new ones and to buy the equipment. That would give us $25,000 per vehicle.”

The increase in the jail’s budget largely is because of the new lieutenant colonel position. The budget in 2013 is estimated to be $884,290 and the department is requesting $911,189 for 2014, according to the first draft proposal.

“We did increase the food budget from $85,000 to $90,000 [in the jail budget] for two reasons,” Richards said. “For one, food costs are going up, and two, our inmate population seems to be steady to full. When we have more people in [the jail], it’s going to cost more money so we did increase that.”

The emergency 911 center’s budget is decreasing slightly from $567,089 in 2013 to $563,174 for 2014, according to the proposal. Richards attributed the drop to a few factors.

“Clothing and personal equipment. My dispatchers have been buying polo shirts, but they don’t greet the public so it’s not really a uniform so we’re going to do away with that,” he said. “When we do away with buying those shirts at $600, that also means that since we give them those [polo shirts], they consider that a uniform, and if we’re giving them a uniform to wear, then we’re giving them an allowance of $1,500 year, and that will be going away.”

Juvenile services

The juvenile services department is requesting $35,436 more for 2014 than in 2013 because of the cost of health care, Ethel Wallace, juvenile services director, said.

“The biggest part of [the proposed 2014 budget] is just a change in employee benefits,” Wallace said. “I have quite a few new employees and they may have changes, like their insurance benefits going from single to family and things like that.”

Since juvenile services has only been in the new juvenile detention center at 226 S. Beech St., Ottawa, for a short time, Wallace said, it’s more difficult to get a good feel for the amount that should be requested when there’s not enough information from previous years to go off.

“The budget is still an estimate,” Wallace said. “This is our first year being in the building, so we still don’t know what all of our costs for a typical year will be.”

County attorney’s office

The county attorney’s office is only requesting a slight increase of about $3,700, Stephen Hunting, county attorney, said. The attorney’s office is requesting $460,238 for its 2014 budget, slightly higher than its 2013 budget of $456,534.

“One area we’re requesting additional funding for is for our access to Westlaw, which is our online legal research,” Hunting said. “For about the past 10 years, the law library has paid that for all members of the Franklin County bar. That changed this past spring. So all of the attorneys in town, our office included, had to come up with an alternative to getting online legal research.”

Another change in the proposed 2014 is concerning the line item for appellate briefs, Hunting said. Appellate briefs are those briefs submitted during the appeals stage.

Previously, these briefs were written by the county attorney’s staff on their own time for an hourly rate, Johnson said. This is difficult to budget for because the briefs could range from one to 10, she said.

“What we’re now asking is that the money generally assigned to that line item for appellate brief work be folded into salaries and that we have two attorneys in the office designated to handle all the appellate work,” Hunting said. “Instead of having it as a line item that is billed for separately, it would just be folded into the regular job duties and descriptions and incorporated into two attorneys’ salaries.”

Prairie Paws Animal Shelter

Prairie Paws Animal Shelter, 3173 K-68, Ottawa, is among several outside agencies that request funding from Franklin County. The shelter is asking for $52,794 for 2014 — $15,209 higher than its budget in 2013.

“The reason we’ve asked for more is we’re taking in more and more animals, and we see an increase in numbers every year more and more for some reason,” Jaron Asher, operations manager and deputy director, said. “We have a formula. When we take in a stray we hold them for three days, so we try to figure out what our costs are in those three days.”

Prairie Paws already has requested $63,378 from the City of Ottawa, Johnson said. Prairie Paws has been operating at its new facility for three years and the money it receives from Franklin County, Ottawa, Williamsburg and Pomona is not enough to cover all costs, Asher said.

“We serve a five-county area so we do get some money for that and we also get money from fundraisers and we also get money from donations,” Asher said. “Unfortunately none of that covers operational costs, and the new facility means more work and more money and we always need more. Even the money from city and county don’t begin to cover our full costs of what we do here.”

What’s left?

The employee benefit budget is the only budget that hasn’t been presented to county commissioners, Johnson said. Before the budget can be published, the commission has to set a public hearing so the public can ask questions and comment on the budget, she said.

“The hearing is usually the first week and a half or so of August,” Johnson said. “There has to be, from the date of publication to the hearing, at least 10 days.”

After the hearing, the budget has until Aug. 25 to be certified and to the county clerk, Johnson said. But just because the budget is published doesn’t mean it can’t be changed, she said.

“Once [the commission] publishes the budget, they can always decrease it,” Johnson said. “But they cannot go above what they published.”

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