The council will be conducting its annual budget hearings Tuesday, Sept. 2-Thursday Sept. 4. The council has also set aside time that Friday if it is needed.
"There is a big misconception out there that the council members only show up to our monthly meetings and the days for the budget hearing, which is simply not true," Council President Michael McCullough said. "There is a lot more effort put into the job than just one night a month, especially when budget requests are being considered."
During the budget hearings, the council reviews budget requests for all property tax levy funds.
The total requests in the levy funds for this year's hearings is $4,495,394, however, the county is anticipating receiving only $3.3 million in property tax revenue in 2009.
"It makes things difficult when you have to cut more than a million dollars from the budget," Clay County Auditor Mary Jo Alumbaugh said. "It should be a little more difficult because a lot of the offices have submitted conservative requests."
Both McCullough and Alumbaugh agreed that the biggest cut from the requests is from salaries.
"We usually save the discussion on the salaries until we have finalized the other line items," McCullough said. "The majority of the offices usually just plug in a 5 or 10 percent increase in their employees' salaries, so that is where the biggest source of our cuts come from."
While the council waits until the end of the hearings to consider raises in salaries, they always try to be fair.
"We always give increases in an exact dollar amount," McCullough said. "That way, everyone gets the same amount. Some counties give equal percentages, but that gives the higher-paid employees a bigger raise than the ones on the lower end of the pay scale."
Last year, the council did make an exception to their typical action by readjusting the salaries of some elected officials and employees of the Clay County Sheriff's Department.
"We compared the salaries to other counties of a similar size in the Association of Indiana Counties' annual fact book and found that many of them were near the bottom of the 10 counties, including Clay County, we compared them to," McCullough said. "We increased those salaries to where they would be equal to the 10-county average. It was especially vital for the deputies because we were losing some of them because of the low pay."
He added that another reason the council made the exception was because the salaries of the employees was nearing that of some of the elected officials, who hold more responsibility and liability.
One thing the council is proud of is that they have been able to build up an operating balance without sacrificing services.
"After the jail opened up, and we had to hire many new employees, the county was near a zero operating balance," McCullough said. "We have been fortunate enough to make enough necessary cuts, without losing employees or services, and we could end the year with an operating balance of approximately $370,000."
Alumbaugh admitted that every budget hearing can be a bit of struggle due to the high responsibility of continuing to efficiently and effectively keep the county operating.
"It can be tough trying to get the best bang for the buck while keeping an operating balance and all of our employees and services, all while setting the budget under the levy amount," Alumbaugh said.
With all the stress of the budget hearings, which are open to the public, the council is getting a bit of relief this year.
The Department of Local Government Finance extended the deadline for the adoption of local budgets from the usual Sept. 30 to Dec. 1 this year. This is mainly because county councils are now in charge of also reviewing the budgets from all taxing units (schools, cities, library, etc.).