County pauses $4M for justice center


Employee raises and future projects, including the justice center project, could ultimately be affected by COVID-19.

The Dubois County Council started discussing that reality at its meeting Monday afternoon.

Council President Jerry Hunefeld said that the $4 million the county was planning to pull from its local income tax fund and rainy day fund for the justice center project should be put on hold.

“This is not a good time to jump on that and move ahead,” Hunefeld said.

Because of the virus, workers’ hours are being reduced and others are being laid off. That affects the amount of income tax that is ultimately collected. And that revenue funds some accounts, like the county’s rainy day fund and local income tax fund.

Work on the justice center’s design will continue, but the council was not ready to commit funding from the county’s rainy day fund and local income tax fund.

“We don’t want to stop the progress,” Hunefeld said, “but on the other hand, we have no idea what this is going to do to us financially.”

The other council members, who were piped into the meeting via telephone, agreed with the assessment.

“I am concerned about the uncertainty of what this can do to the LIT fund,” Councilman Mike Kluesner said.

“I think we have to pause for a minute, to see where we’re at,” Councilman Craig Greulich said.

Hunefeld also told council members to think about salary raises for this year and next. The taxes collected in 2020 will get to counties in 2022.
“So our budget in 2022 is going to be quite tight,” he said.

Hunefeld told council members to think about how much of a raise can be given in 2022 in order to determine how much can be given in the 2021 budget. The council has to tell department heads what kind of raise to incorporate into the 2021 budget by June 1.

The council’s options are to give a normal raise for 2021 and nothing in 2022, or to be conservative with 2021 raises “and hopefully have something in 2022,” Hunefeld said.

The council will meet again April 20 to discuss both matters.

The council also:

• Officially approved a $50,000 emergency appropriation authorized by Hunefeld previously for emergency supplies in relation to COVID-19. So far, items like sanitizers and wipes have been purchased, Auditor Sandy Morton said. But other items will come out of it, such as more supplies for absentee ballots; the state is allowing voters to mail in their ballot without having a specific reason to do so.

• Heard County Highway Superintendent Steve Berg say that he is holding off on following his equipment rotation plan, because he is not sure how the department’s finances will ultimately be affected by the current situation.

• Appropriated $120,000 for repairs on the Veterans Memorial Bridge. County Engineer Brent Wendholt has explained to the council and county commissioners that the bridge is not unsafe, but there is a crack that needs to be fixed before it gets worse and becomes unsafe.

• Moved $21,000 in revenue the Dubois County Solid Waste Management District has in its bank account into the district’s budget.

• Appropriated $20,000 to upgrade the county’s computer network storage, $12,000 to upgrade the highway department’s phone system and $7,000 for improvements to the courthouse’s phone system.

• Listened as Morton and Councilwoman Becky Beckman reminded the public to fill out their 2020 Census form. Beckman is the head of the county’s census committee.

• Heard Hunefeld remind the public to continue heeding health guidelines for COVID-19. Stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Avoid touching your face. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. And stay home when you are sick.

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