The Boone County Council, in a 3-2 vote at the council’s Sept. 8 meeting, decided against a 1 percent pay raise for elected county officials in 2021. The decision also included non-elected county employees, but some council members said they would consider other options to provide raises at a future date.
County councilors Don Lamb, John Riner and Elise Nieshalla voted against the raises, and county councilors Jennifer Hostetter and Kevin Van Horn voted in favor of raises. Nieshalla was the deciding vote. County councilors Marcia C. Wilhoite and Steve Jacob were not in attendance.
“We don’t know what’s coming,” Lamb said regarding the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. “We just don’t know what’s coming. … When you think about it from a business standpoint, you keep your business healthy for the future. … Businesses go through this, and you make those hard decisions, and everybody is in it together.”
Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors, LLC, Partner Paige Sansone told the county council before the vote that it did not, according to current projections, have a balanced budget for 2021. A summary of select county fund estimates for 2021 prepared by Baker Tilly advisors showed all funds would end the year with a negative net cash flow, except for the county’s reassessment 2015 fund. The county’s general fund, currently estimated to begin 2021 with a cash balance of $5,159,026 and would fall to $3,991,547 at the end of the year, Sansone said, adding that the full effects of the pandemic would probably not be felt until 2022.
“When you put in raises, that is a long-term impact to your budget,” Sansone said, “and you want to be able to sustain those.”
The vote was also presaged by cuts in several departments’ budgets to buoy the county’s general fund, which has been challenged by the unexpected fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nieshalla said the county’s goal was to not need to furlough or lay off any employees to cut costs. She said the council would consider an additional appropriation to fund raises for non-elected county employees in November after certified 2021 balances are configured.
Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen said a pay raise was needed to show support for “the county’s most valuable asset – it’s people.” Nielsen said members of his office are regularly poached by surrounding law-enforcement agencies, such as Whitestown’s and Zionsville’s police departments, that can offer higher salaries. He said that by not offering county employees raises to keep track with inflation, the county council was sending the wrong message.