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County council looks at 2016 budget

Members of the LaGrange County Council began the process of looking at the budget of $23,560,477.60 at their Monday meeting. This is an increase from the budget proposed for 2015 of $22,517,583.36.

    An abstract of the proposed budget appears on page 2 of today’s LaGrange Standard. The proposed budget for 2016 includes a proposed wage increase of 3 percent for most county employees. County commissioners had asked office holders to try and hold the line on all budget items other than wages and limit the wage increases to 3 percent.

    Superior Court Judge Lisa Bowen-Slaven presented her budget request for 2016, stating she is asking for a modest wage increase for her court reporters of 5 percent. “These are specially trained people and their wages are currently below standards for their work effort,” she said.

    Judge Bowen-Slaven also told council members about a State of Indiana mental health grant that is being applied for through the joint (with Steuben County) Community Corrections program. This program will add three probation officers to the LaGrange County staff of five. The grant, in the amount of $838,000, is being applied for jointly with Steuben County, who will be the physical agent for the project.

    LaGrange County’s responsibility will include providing office space. The grant is expected to cover employment costs for the new officials, including wages, fringe benefits and office infrastructure. This is part of the State of Indiana program to keep all persons convicted of Level 6 felonies and misdemeanors housed locally rather than being sent to the Indiana Department of Corrections. A large portion of this grant will be used to provide mental health and other services designed to change ways of thinking and minimize chances of becoming repeat offenders.

    The grant proposal is due September 18 with results to be announced in early November. The new sentencing guidelines start January 1, 2016.

    Judge Bowen-Slavens stated that an indication of LaGrange County’s responsibilities would be reflective of today’s court calendar which includes 25 initial hearings Monday morning (12 include drugs in the initial case filings) and seven hearings Monday afternoon, five of which will deal with drugs.

    LaGrange County Sheriff Jeff Campos presented a budget that includes a new part-time clerk, three additional jailers for courthouse security personnel, a new dispatcher and a part-time code enforcement officer. In addition he is requesting four new vehicles and a payment to the Sheriff’s Retirement Fund of $373,671 for 2016. The retirement fund payment is $356,510 for 2015.

    Other items in the sheriff’s budget , for the most part, reflect very little change from 2015.

    LaGrange County Assessor Pat Monroe told council members that her budget is pretty much unchanged from 2015 except for the recommended 3 percent wage increase. “Just so you know, I had seven employee changes last year, six left for higher pay with less work,” she said. Workers in the assessor’s office are busy all the time, with no down time ever, according to Monroe. “In addition, all are expected to work toward attaining a Level  III assessor status which requires time out of the office plus training costs which means less productive time in the office,” she continued.

    Budget hearings will continue the balance of Monday and Tuesday morning in the council chambers. Budgets will not be adopted until in September.