FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –Thursday’s County Council budget hearing marked a step toward finalizing the county budget, expected to be approved in October.
Last year, the County Council approved a budget of $250 million for 2023 which was 4% more than the year before. Last year, there was $73 million in ARPA funds to be used at the county’s discretion and a surplus of about $50 million. This year, the budget surplus is $55 million, according to documents provided.
While the Council works to finalize a budget for next year, seven departments came forward today to request more money for operations.
Those departments included city-county dispatch 9-1-1, Allen County Coroner, county information technology (IT), Allen Superior Court, Allen County Surveyor, the Purdue Cooperative Extension and the combined department of the Allen County Sheriff and the county jail.
Consolidated Communications Partnership (9-1-1)executive director David Bubb told council members that his employees had never seen a raise except for the cost of living.
Information technology asked for the greatest amount – $2.2 million – that would include money to protect the county from cyber security attacks, five of which were attempted on the county network in the past 30 days and neutralized, according to the request. The IT memorandum noted that in the past two years, “cyber threats” have increased by 90% in federal, state and local government environments.
The county “receives and blocks nearly 3,000 malicious emails daily that contain viruses, phishing content or email takeover attempts,” the memorandum said.
Allen Superior Court is asking for a jump of more than a half million dollars to cover costs for jurors and juror meals, consulting and guardian ad litems, budget statistics showed. The budget was submitted for $8.1 million.
The surveyor, coroner and cooperative extension administrator each asked between $20,000 and $27,000, the budget sheet indicated.
Nearly $1.6 million was the ask for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and the jail.
Allen County Sheriff Troy Hershberger spoke with WANE about needing more dollars to accommodate more staff, a primary consideration as the county deals with demands from a federal judge to reverse inhumane conditions at the jail.
“It has to do a lot with salaries. When they give a cost of living (increase) that increases other line items beyond just salaries, such as shift differential which becomes important when I have a patrol division, vice narcotics division, a warrants division that has second and third shifts and a jail that has second and third shifts. So I have approximately a little over 100 people of my workforce that work different shifts,” Hershberger said.
Working second and third shifts requires different pay and that goes for overtime, too. Hershberger didn’t have to ask for more money to pay those differentials for the last couple of years because there were some unused salaries.
“However, as I’ve gained employees – 15 just this year for the jail – and three additional police officers, those positions weren’t funded. I had to use current budget monies to fund those positions,” Hershberger said. “I didn’t have the luxury of those unused salaries to push towards other places such as shift differential and overtime monies as they gave that cost of living raise.”
If the departments aren’t able to get the additional monies, Hershberger says he and his staff will have to make it work “and then we’ll have to come back and ask for additional monies.”
Hershberger says he doesn’t like to ask for extra money, but the unpredictability of events factors in.
“I don’t get to pick and choose when major events happen and then I have 20 or 30 people on overtime over the course of 12 to 14 hours in the event of say, a barricaded subject and a SWAT callout or a prisoner at the jail that ends up at the hospital for long durations of time,” Hershberger explained.
The fact that the number of jail inmates has gone up by about 100 doesn’t make an immediate difference and he believes the rise in inmates may have something to do with summer months and “the fact that a new recruit class hit the streets,” resulting in more arrests.
Inmate population does impact the jail budget, he said.
“There’s things in the budget that are out of my control, specifically the jail when you talk contractual services. Inmates’ food is one, medical’s another that’s rising 5 percent. Hidden things People don’t realize I pay the utility bills so that’s rising, too some 20% or nearly 20 percent. That increase that impacts my budget,” Hershberger said.
On the police side, vehicles that once cost $30,000, now cost $50,000. The sheriff is also budgeting for a finance director at an annual cost of about $90,000 and will be absorbing the costs of eight court security bailiffs at a cost of $562,000 and that includes overtime pay and clothing.
The council is expected to approve a budget in October that will go into effect on January 1.