Council reviews 2021 budget requests

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Finances were on the minds of each Dubois County Council member as they reviewed the budgets of county departments and revenue funds all day Monday.

Most departments kept their budget requests minimal. And the council determined that employees will get up to a 1.5% salary increase. Some departments asked for additional pay for an employee who was below what the salary of the position should be. And a few asked for more money to cover needed expenses.

Dubois Circuit Judge Nathan Verkamp talked to the council about funding for public defenders, which the courts are mandated to provide defendants who can’t afford their own. “It’s one the things people have as their constitutional right, to be represented by an attorney. And I have to appoint one,” Verkamp said. “We go through their finances and their work history and make a determination.”

The costs for providing public defenders have depleted the Circuit and Superior Courts’ designated funds, each of which receives more than $100,000 for the year. And it’s difficult to get attorneys to go into a contract with the courts as pauper council, Verkamp explained. And when the courts have high-level felony cases, like murder cases, the fund is heavily used.

Also on Monday, some county department heads requested additional salary increases for positions that were determined by a countywide wage study as being lower than they were supposed to be. Some of those are the CASA director, county custodian and process center assistant.

And other departments asked for pay increases for certain employees who are now doing more work, like probation assistants and the county engineer. The engineer’s requested increase was to make that salary more comparable to the salaries of engineers in other counties in the state. The state is giving the counties with a licensed engineer an additional $20,000 each year, Dubois County Engineer Brent Wendholt explained.

Commissioner Chad Blessinger encouraged the council to commit the $6 million it had planned to this year for the justice expansion project. He reiterated that he was requesting that the county move forward with plans to expand the security and community corrections centers, which is estimated to cost about $31 million. He said the commissioners do not think it’s time to build a justice center or move the courts.

“Under the best and ideal conditions, we think that’s a great goal to shoot for in the future,” he said. “We don’t think it’s the best idea to move on at this time, based on not only local sentiment but also financial conditions.”

The idea right now is to have the infrastructure in place for a future justice center project, “if the future council and future commissioners should decide they want to do that,” Blessinger said.

The county council will not yet make any final determinations on the requests. Council members will consider final approval of the budget during the council's October meeting, which is set for 4:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26. A public hearing for the budget will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14. Those meetings are held in the commissioners/council room, which is on the second floor of the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper.




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