Faced with the prospect of significant revenue shortfalls, Howard County Council members will form a committee to review departmental spending.

In December, the council passed a motion directing officeholders and department heads to reduce spending by 5 percent.

Council members also imposed a hiring freeze, which requires council approval for the filling of all vacant positions, and increased the insurance premiums by 15 percent for part-time employees.

Tuesday, the board voted to form a committee to meet with the department heads and officeholders to look for savings. The committee will consist of three council members and a county commissioner.

The committee, whose meetings will be open to the public, will report its findings to the full council.

“There have been lots of questions,” Council President Dick Miller. “We don’t know if 5 percent is enough to survive or not?”

With recent moves approved by the Indiana Legislature, more funding for local government entities is coming from income taxes rather than property taxes, he said.

“With the daily barrage of job losses, income taxes will be severely reduced,” Miller said.

The state estimated county governments’ revenues this year will be down 8 percent.

Council members hope a 5 percent reduction in the 2009 budget will save $1 million from the $19.5 million general fund budget. An 8 percent reduction in revenues amounts to $1.6 million from the county’s operating budget.

Councilman Jeff Stout said he viewed Tuesday’s meeting as a means to gather information on the proposed cuts and no set decisions would be finalized.

“We’re looking to head off a problem in the future,” he said.

Miller said Kokomo has already been working to reduce spending in 2009.

“We’re all going to face further reductions in the future,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Thompson said he hoped the last thing the council looks at in terms of savings is a reduction in employee wages.

Several department heads asked the council for permission to fill vacancies.

Auditor Ann Wells made the first request to replace an employee who retired.

“I’m in a bind with all the filing requirements,” she said.

Councilman Paul Wyman asked what other options were available, including the use of part-time employees.

Wells said part-time employees can’t be used in the finance and mapping areas.

The council approved the hiring, with Wyman casting the lone no-vote.

• Scott Reed, maintenance and grounds supervisor, said he wasn’t going to replace an employee who retired but wanted to be able to use half of the salary ($16,000) for part-time help and planned to make cuts in other areas.

• Steve Raquet, director of the public defender’s office, said one part-time deputy took another job in Miami County.

Raquet received council approval to promote a part-time deputy to a full-time position. He explained the change would require raising the salary from $40,370 to $51,500 through a transfer of funds.

He explained by not hiring another part-time deputy, the savings would be $29,000, or 3 percent of the department’s budget.

• Brent Kelley, director of the Robert J. Kinsey Youth Center received approval to replace a vacant full-time cook’s position with two part-time employees at a savings of $32,000.

Ken de la Bastide can be reached at (765) 454-8580 or via e-mail at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com

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