With the inception of a new income tax to fund operations at the youth center and jail, the Howard County Council will be forced to reduce those budgets by more than $600,000.

The council will finalize work on the 2008 budget requests Wednesday in room 338 of the Howard County Administration Center, 220 N. Main St.

Earlier this year the council voted to impose a special County Option Income Tax (COIT) for the county to offset the rising costs of operating the Kinsey Youth Center and jail, rather than through property taxes.

The council first approved a COIT rate of .25 percent but through action of the legislature was allowed to lower the rate to .2 percent ($20 per $10,000 earned). To be able to put the new COIT in place, the council agreed to freeze property tax revenues to operate the youth center and jail at $3.3 million per year starting in 2008.

According to the Howard County Auditor’s office the total budget requests from the Kinsey Youth Center and jail is $6.4 million. The council has approximately $5.8 million available through the two funding sources.

The request from Sheriff Marty Talbert includes the hiring of eight additional correctional officers and a 5 percent salary increase.

“We want to bring staffing up inside the jail,” Talbert said. “The additional officers are needed because of the increased number of people at the jail.”

Aside from the request for additional employees and the salary increase, there were no new line items in the budget, he said.

“Additional officers will reduce overtime,” Talbert said. “The jail is over capacity and we’re having to use areas not suited for the long term housing of inmates. Those areas have no day room, indoor recreational facilities or showers.”

Jan Weaver, the director of the Kinsey Youth Center, said most of the budget is the same except for salaries.

Weaver attempted to get salary increases for her administrative staff during 2007 but the council denied the request.

The increases sought for the administrative staff in 2008 range from $5,735 for Weaver to almost $14,000 for a program director.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Weaver said of the request. “I hope it will come through this time. The increase I’m seeking would be less than $600,000 if they gave me everything I requested.”

Weaver said the non-administrative employees at the center should receive the same salary increase as other county employees, which was 3 percent for 2007.

“The council struggles with the budget every year,” she said. “All I can do is put my request in. I have never requested an increase in the general operating budget, except for emergencies. We try to be frugal when it comes to spending.”

Council President Dick Miller said the requests from the new COIT far exceed the available funds.

“The requests overwhelm the projected revenues,” he said. “Once we lowered the tax rate, the state told us to expect 20 percent less in revenues than was anticipated.”

Of budget requests, Miller said, “nothing is dead on arrival” before the council.

“It is no surprise,” he said. “The focus of the tax was the increasing costs of operating the jail and youth center. The cost of public safety is increasing and the number of people in the system continues to climb.”

Miller said he agrees with Weaver’s suggestion that the Kinsey Youth Center is one of the best in the state and may not be competitive in terms of salaries.

“The council tries to give a fair and equitable salary to all employees,” he said. “We’re trying to determine if the county has the capability to provide an increase to all employees in 2008.

“The Youth Center is on the higher side of county salaries,” Miller continued. “It would be safe to say the county won’t award changes of that dimension.”

Councilman Paul Wyman called the salary request for the youth center “unreasonable”.

“It will be up to the council to determine the needs of those two departments,” he said. “When the request is unrealistic, why put it in the budget to begin with. That is not going to happen.”

Concerning the eight new employees for the jail, Wyman said no decision would be made on hiring additional employees until the total county budget picture is known.

The hiring of eight additional correctional officers would be a significant amount of money, Miller said.

“The overtime budget for the jail is huge,” he said. “We would have to compare the cost of overtime with the cost of new employees with benefits.”

Miller said hiring more employees wouldn’t eliminate the need for overtime funding, which ranges between $150,000 and $200,000 per year.

A concern was burnout among employees of the jail, he said.

“You need people to operate the jail,” Miller said. “The sheriff would like to have at least five people per shift.”

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