Seeking to emulate the state of Indiana, Vigo County Councilwoman Brenda Wilson is proposing a resolution requiring the county to have a balanced budget.
“Last year we had $4.92 million in expenditures over revenues,” Wilson said of the county’s budget. The difference was absorbed through the county’s general fund operating balance.
“We have a surplus in the general fund that covered that, but we can’t keep spending the surplus,” Wilson said. “We need to tighten up on the expenditures so that expenses don’t exceed revenue, especially now with the way the economy is, high gas prices and everyone not sure what will happen” with the economy.
Revenues are defined as all income received by the county general fund and all other county funds, excluding the proceeds of bonds and other loans, according to the resolution. Expenses are defined as the ordinary operating costs of county government, including debt service payments made during the budget period.
If expenses exceed revenues, when reconciled at the close of the annual budget, then the next annual budget has to subtract the shortfall from the projected revenue. Wilson introduced the resolution last week at the council’s non-voting “sunshine” session.
At that meeting, Councilman Travis Norris questioned if the resolution targets the bottom line of the entire county budget, or whether a specific department which had spent more than its revenues would have to adjust to a lower budget the following year.
The resolution stems from an idea first floated by former Gov. Mike Pence in a 2015 speech and became law in 2018 after Hoosier voters approved an amendment to the state constitution requiring a balanced budget. Indiana joined the majority in legally requiring a balanced budget, as 49 states must balance their budgets, with the exception of Vermont, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
However, Indiana allows the requirement to be suspended if two-thirds of the Legislature, both a supermajority of the Indiana House of Representatives and the Indiana Senate, vote in favor.
“I am planning to amend the resolution to include a two-thirds vote,” Wilson said, to be presented at Tuesday’s meeting of the Vigo County Council.
“If we are to pattern it on the state’s resolution, that should definitely be included,” Wilson said. “By proposing this resolution, I wanted to make sure that the taxpayers know that ‘I hear you!’ We must be respectful of how tax dollars are spent.
“I made a vow last year that I was going to be on the [Council] budget committee this year and that I was going to do my best to make sure that the government lives within our means, just as the people have to,” Wilson said. “We need to keep the county [employees] working while providing the services that are required, for the taxpayers. But, we have to be much more frugal, especially now,” Wilson said.
In addition to inflation, Wilson pointed to potential future costs of employee salaries, pending a new job classification study due this year.
Kylissa Miller, council administrator, said she has concerns for some budgets, such as the cumulative bridge fund, that accumulates funds in order to pay for various bridge projects.
Additionally, the county’s Economic Development Income Tax fund, while planned out years in advance, can change for major projects, such as the elevated walkway that was recently completed from West Terre Haute to Terre Haute, and the new convention center and in the past, for major road projects, such as for Canal Road that links to the state 641 bypass.
“Funds that are more project-driven, not on an annual operating expense, need the ability to accumulate funds and be outside the annual revenue. That is where I would be concerned” on the resolution, Miller said.
The county bases its annual budget on revenue projections, which can change during the year.
Some county budgets have a designated property tax levy, such as the parks and health department, with revenues generated from tax rates. The biggest target for a balanced budget would be the county’s general fund, which includes multiple dozens of funds.
Miller said she thinks the balanced budget resolution can be done, with a closer look at one-time expenses and annual expenses.
The Council “may have to be a little more creative and drill down a little bit farther and break it out. It is doable, I think, but it will require looking at [the annual budget] in different ways than what the Council has done in the past,” Miller said.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.