A public presentation of Hamilton County’s 2020 operating budget of just under $100 million took an unexpected turn when some members of the Hamilton County Council voted to suspend their own rules to make changes at a recent meeting, nearly one month after finalizing two days of budget hearings.
The Sept. 4 council meeting served as the public hearing portion of the budget process.
Only one resident, Mark Hall of Noblesville, spoke during the public hearing. He questioned the justification of raises for county employees and elected officials, who are set to receive 7 percent and 3 percent more, respectively, in 2020, in addition to questions regarding funding for the Youth Assistance Program, an early intervention advocacy group that helps at-risk youth.
Councilor Amy Massillamany said the difference between the 7 percent proposed increase compared to the 2.8 national average for pay increases, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
“Regarding the 7 percent, roughly four years ago it was determined that (the county) had some inequities in how we were paying our employees, and if you looked at someone in the same classification, there could have been disparagement between their salaries,” she said. “When we went through the process of (adapting) to what I will call ‘the market,’ we (decided to implement the change) in two-year increases, but in order to maintain, we did it annually this year, so it was compared up through 2018 in order to stay competitive and retain the people that we have, bring more people to the county government entity when job openings are available, and that’s what the study ultimately indicated. So, I made the decision to vote for it based on that information.”
Other councilors echoed Massillamany’s concerns about employee retention and support, but councilor Fred Glynn specifically spoke against raises for elected officials.
“I didn’t vote for pay increases for elected officials,” Glynn said. “I won’t vote for any increase for myself or anybody else. We went off a study that was presented to us, and we have to compare it to other governments and what they’re making. I do stand by the vote to give some of our employees raises, but I do not support giving elected officials raises.”
County Coroner John Chalfin had requested a 30 percent pay increase in 2020, which was denied during budget hearings after councilors agreed he would receive a 3 percent raise, like many other elected officials.
But during the Sept. 4 meeting, Massillamany and fellow councilors Ken Alexander, Steve Schwartz and Jeff Hern voted to suspend the rules and approve a 14 percent increase for Chalfin in 2020, raising his annual salary to $80,000.
Council President Brad Beaver expressed frustration just before the 4-3 vote was taken.
“Remember, there were other elected officials that asked for a raise that didn’t get them,” he said.
In addition to a proposed change for Chalfin, Massillamany, Alexander, Schwartz and Hern also voted to suspend rules to vote in favor of hiring three additional Hamilton County employees for the Youth Assistance Program.
During the two-day budget hearings, leadership from YAP had requested the additional positions but instead was given a $240,000 stipend to be used at their discretion.
Beaver said other county departments also requested increases in staff but those requests were significantly cut down.
“We already supply (YAP) with two full-time employees paid out of the county general fund,” Beaver said. “What they were asking for was three more on the county payroll. I don’t want another county department.”
Massillamany said she was in favor of the of the three positions for YAP because it was first proposed, resulting in her motion to suspend rules to switch three part-time YAP employees to full time and eliminate the $240,000 stipend.
Because the three positions are now full-time, they will receive the county benefits package.
“We cut the parks department (request) down to one employee, and then we turn around and give these guys exactly what they want, and they’re not even a county department,” Glynn said. “When this motion goes through, that will cost us more than the $240,000 we were going to give them. This will be a permanent strain on our budget.”
The council will vote on adoption of the 2020 budget at a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 16 in conference room 1A at the Hamilton County Government and Judicial Center, 1 Hamilton County Square., Noblesville. If approved, the budget will be sent to the state for final approval before going into effect Jan. 1, 2020.