On the first day of Elkhart County’s 2015 budget hearings, council members heard budget proposals from county-wide organizations such as the Elkhart County Clerk, Juvenile Court and ADEC.
The first day of Elkhart County’s 2015 budget hearings was fueled by plenty of caffeine, passionate pitches from department heads and some hard questions from council members.
The hearings began Tuesday, Sept. 16, at the county administration building in Goshen and will wrap up Wednesday, Sept. 17.
After that, the county council has a big decision to make — make huge slashes or increase taxes.
Here’s a quick recap of Tuesday’s biggest items:
Sheriff Brad Rogers focused on two issues in his presentation — medical costs and staffing problems.
His department is requesting $2.7 million in 2015 for medical costs incurred by inmates.
“You must remember that the typical inmate is not as healthy as the general public. They’ve been deliberately indifferent to their health,” he said.
Often, inmates needing healthcare have been jailed for relatively minor offenses. The department had to foot a three-day hospital bill for an inmate who was jailed for being $500 behind on child support, he said.
A $100,000 bill stemmed from an inmate’s visit to Oaklawn.
In recent months, county officials have suggested cutting open positions as a cost-savings measure. Rogers said that would be a risky move for his department, which has 14 openings.
“We’re not getting by with less staff. Even with open positions we’re burning overtime money. I’ll tell you, quite frankly, that it’s killing our officers. What I mean is that they’re basically working their asses off,” he said.
Cutting positions would force the department to “make difficult decisions to services beyond what we’ve already cut,” he said.
Donna Belusar, CEO of ADEC, made a passionate plea for the council to continue funding the organization, which assists 1,045 disabled Elkhart County residents.
In 2014, ADEC received $450,500 from the county under the commissioner’s budget.
ADEC’s monthly costs total $1.4 million. About 80 percent of that goes to wages for a staff of about 500, she said.
(Read more: Riegsecker questions funding for ADEC)
Belusar told the council Tuesday that the county’s contributions help pay for ADEC’s guardianship program, transportation costs and family services.
“I don’t think any of us feel that what you do isn’t important. I don’t think any of us begrudge the money we send you,” John Letherman, county council president, said. “Our question is what’s appropriate for what we send, and that’s what we’d like to discuss,” he said.
The switch from precinct voting to vote centers is paying off.
The county clerk’s proposed budget is about $33,000 less than last year, partially thanks to the new streamlined method of casting ballots, Wendy Hudson, county clerk said.
Letherman asked Hudson how secure the new touch-screen equipmentis. Theoretically, the equipment and data could be “massaged,” she said, but only at the hands of conspiring poll workers.
“I don’t see that we’d have such a problem in Elkhart County,” Hudson said.
Deborah Domine, juvenile court magistrate, said she sees “several alternatives” to how the county currently deals with juvenile delinquents.
Instead of building a new facility, which has long been a priority for the county commissioners, the county could build an intake or reception center where every arrested child is processed and assessed.
High-risk children would be detained and low-risk children would be subject to alternatives like GPS monitoring, she said.
Officials at the state level have been pushing courts to “be looking a little more intelligently at criminal detainment,” Domine said, and an intake center would be “a little bit more soft but a little bit more scientific” than the current set-up.
Domine also suggested using a pod at the county jail to house juveniles, an idea that’s been considered then brushed aside in the past but seems to have renewed interest from some council members, including Letherman.
Source: The Elkhart Truth