Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

May 9, 2014

Bleak fiscal future painted at council/commissioners meeting

ELKHART — Elkhart County government officials were given an extensive look Friday at what may be headed their way with the 2015 budget, and what they learned wasn’t the most promising of outlooks.

Such was the news revealed during a special Elkhart County Commissioners & County Council Summit held Friday morning at the Matterhorn Banquet & Conference Center in Elkhart.

During the summit, Elkhart County Administrator Tom Byers got the budget discussion started by providing attendees with a breakdown of the five main fiscal policy goals currently on the radar of the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners for 2015. Put simply, these are the five goals the board would like to accomplish if money weren’t an issue. Those five goals are:

• Increasing the county’s General Fund balance;

• Fully funding the General Fund without the use of Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) funds or landfill revenues;

• Increasing the Jail County Adjusted Gross Income Tax (CAGIT) reserve in order to build a new juvenile detention center;

• Starting to rebuild the county’s depleted Rainy Day Fund; and

• Providing a needed market adjustment to wages for county employees.

Budget Impact

Unfortunately for the board, having goals and having the means to follow through with those goals are two very different things, a fact pointed out by Byers through the presentation of a second, less rosy list: issues impacting the 2015 budget.

To begin with, Byers noted that the county’s Rainy Day fund over the past two years has been depleted by more than $1 million due to things such as the shaky economy and an overall reduction in incoming revenue due to the state’s property tax caps.

“The Rainy Day fund balance is down to under $300,000,” Byers said. “So just to remind you, that source is not going to be there.”

Also set to be a big hit to the budget is health insurance, which Byers said will likely result in a funding shortfall of $1.9 million for 2015 if the trend in insurance claims for the year continues.

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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