Council considers projects, pay raises in budget


FERDINAND — After a marathon budget workshop Wednesday, Ferdinand officials have a start on the 2020 budget.

The Town Council started at 6 a.m. and worked through the day to create a proposed budget that includes continued funding for projects underway in the city — namely the Old Town Lake and electric upgrade projects — as well as some equipment needs at various city departments. The council also discussed potential raises for employees, but did not release a figure. That will depend on what the cost of the town’s health insurance will be. The town won’t know that number for sure until around November.

“We’ve picked a number [for that cost],” Town Council President Ken Sicard said. “But it’s just a guess right now ... Right now, we’re at the guesstimate stage.”

That “guesstimate stage” has become the norm for this stage in the budgeting process. The health care marketplace doesn’t open until October, and insurance companies don’t release final cost figures until about 60 days before renewal, which for Ferdinand falls around Nov. 1. Despite not having the final number, the town has to put together a proposed budget. The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance requires the town to file its proposal by mid-October.

To make the proposal, town officials are working with last year’s numbers to make educated estimates of what the costs may be so they can build their budget and plan for other big costs coming down the line. One big ticket purchase the council expects to make in 2020 will be a backhoe to be shared among the town’s departments. Part of Wednesday’s meeting focused on figuring out how to cover that cost.

“We’re putting that into the budget where all the departments will share [the cost],” Sicard said.

The town also expects the stormwater system to require some maintenance, and they plan to install a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition — SCADA — control system in the water tower near the Sisters of St. Benedict property to help measure the water level in the tower so officials can make maintenance plans.

Knowing those costs are coming down the line means the council will have to discuss utility rates, as the projects would be funded through utility rates from the stormwater and water departments, respectively.

“We’ve been fortunate that our rates have been stable,” said Councilwoman Debbie Johnson. “But we haven’t done a lot of maintenance. We’re catching up now.”

The town did have some reserve funds put away for utility updates, but those funds have been depleted by the electric upgrades currently underway and the state-mandated phosphorus removal project the wastewater department completed in 2018.

The council also took time Wednesday to begin planning for larger purchases that are coming but that won’t fit in the 2020 budget. Each department will now have its own capital reserve fund that the council will budget funds into each year. That way, when big purchases need to be made, there will already be funds designated. Sicard said the town piloted the idea in the last few years when officials created a line item in the fire department’s budget to save for a firetruck and a line item in the street department’s budget to save for a street sweeper.

Now that the budget workshop is complete, Clerk Treasurer Tammy Miller will update the draft based on the council’s discussions and present the next draft either at the next regular town council meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, at town hall, 2065 Main St., or at a special meeting the council may call before the Aug. 20 meeting. Whether or not to call a special meeting will be decided in the next couple weeks.

Regardless of if a special meeting is called, Sicard said, the Aug. 20 council meeting will include several discussions about the 2020 budget and town funding.

More on