GOSHEN — Like the year before it, 2013 turned out to be a rather uneventful year for Elkhart County government, limited funds coupled with the need to streamline county departments meant little revenue left over for major building or infrastructure projects.
That said, there were some notable achievements made during the year, and we at The News recently sat down with Elkhart County Commissioner Terry Rodino and Elkhart County councilmen Randy Yohn and David Foutz to reflect on some of the past year’s biggest hardships and success stories, as well as what’s to come for 2014.
According to Foutz, 2013 was really just about maintaining services and managing the budget effectively.
“The overarching issue in 2013, as in the recent past, was filling the gap between insufficient revenue and appropriate budget expenditures to meet the service expectations of county residents,” Foutz said. “Since the budget of 2009 following the start of the ‘Great Recession’, record setting unemployment resulted in a dramatic decrease in local income tax revenue received by the county. As the health of the local economy improved during the recovery and income tax revenue began to increase, a decrease in property tax revenue began as the effect of the property tax cap came into play.”
Referencing the current fiscal dilemma faced by the county, Foutz noted that property tax revenue is decreasing faster than income revenue is increasing.
“Consequently, all local taxing units are facing an increasing gap between financial resources and local service needs,” Foutz said. “Specific issues that resulted from budget constraints were providing employees with a much needed pay increase, paying for highway paving and repairs, and infrastructural improvements.”
Declining revenues and squeezed budgets aside, Councilman Yohn was quick to point out one significant standout for the county this year — communication.
“I think that communications between the council and commissioners was greatly improved this year,” Yohn said. “We worked closely with them to prepare the 2014 budget. While cuts were necessary, we were able to make employee raises and healthcare a priority. We budgeted for 3 percent pay increases for employees and increased the employer contribution to their health savings accounts.”