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County officials struggle with budget requests

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Clerk, veterans' officer seek position boosts, EMS wants ambulance upgrade

TELL CITY - The Perry County clerk, veterans-services officer and director of emergency medical services pleaded for extra funding before the county council Wednesday, but Council President Pete Franzman said extra money is unlikely to be available in the 2009 budget.

County Clerk Doris Davis said she needs to convert a part-time position to full time to avoid losing the person filling it.

Wayne Hubert said he already works more than the 17.5 hours per week he's allotted to provide services to veterans, and more than 4,500 deployed National Guard and Reserve members will return after the new year begins, all of them eligible for full benefits. EMS Director Pat Lambert wants a new ambulance and capnography equipment.

County Clerk's Office Swamped

"We're so swamped now," Davis told the council, explaining most surrounding counties have separate election offices. With election and court-support duties, "we're getting to a point that we have so many people working overtime; we can't do the job in a normal week. People don't have time to take vacations or comp(ensatory) time."

Shifting a part-time clerical position held by Amanda Mogan to full time "would relieve us," Davis said. "She's very efficient and reliable, and other people have come in and offered her full-time positions."

Explaining she has "a great group of girls" who are dedicated and "stay until the job is done," Davis said she doesn't want to lose Mogan.

"Looking at the (budget) numbers," Franzman said, "we're more likely to cut help than add help. I know there are two or three people asking to increase positions. I understand your office is stressed."

"We're going to crunch through the numbers and see what we can come up with," said Councilman Alan Cassidy.

County Auditor Connie Berger said Thursday the projected normal levy for next year is nearly $2.8 million. She advertised a maximum levy of nearly $3.2 million and said the council will face cuts of$394,202 when they gather Sept. 17 for their all-day budget session.

Wednesday's meeting offered county officers an opportunity to make any special pleas they felt were necessary.

Davis said she realizes "it's ridiculous how much we spend on postage" but said she's working to bring that cost down.

No elections are scheduled next year, she said, so savings will occur there, although some election officials still must be paid, according to state law.

Davis said the cost of a computer program used in the court system and tied-in to state offices has jumped $1,000, and charges for MicroVote voting-equipment maintenance are going from $5,500 to $9,500.

"That's usurious," Franzman said, "it almost doubled." He asked for the name of the representative Davis works with.

That official, Mandy Miller in the company's Indianapolis office, would not be available until today, according to Patrick Yaggi, vice president for technical services, who said Thursday he was unable to explain the increase.

He said he'd call Miller and ask her to call The News, but she didn't return the call by the Friday deadline for this edition.

Seeking, Providing Help

"I'm in the same situation," Hubert told the council. "I'm asking to make my job full time so I can be here more hours." He works more than 40 hours per week, but is only paid for 17.5, he said. The night before the council meeting, he worked until 5, he related as an example, then had to respond to a problem early the next morning.

It is very important for the council to understand, he said, that "everyone looks at this office as a cost, but everything that comes through this office brings money to the county." Claims filed on veterans' behalf total $3.7 million in benefits, he said, adding that he expects that number to hit $4 million next year.

(Editor's note: Huber said Monday the $3.7 million is a figure accumulated over an unknown number of years and not entirely attributable to him, as may have been indicated in our print version.

"We're now dealing with a lot of (post-traumatic stress disorder claims)," he said, explaining they're highly emotional because the veterans have to recall and describe what happened to them.

In the first six months of this year, Hubert made more than 1,300 telephone or face-to-face contacts, he said.

"I understand your situation," he told the council, "but I really need to get some help."

He answered affirmatively when Franzman asked if expanding his schedule to four days per week would help.

"We have an awful lot of veterans," Hubert said. "Everyone who applies (for benefits) - those are dollars that are going to be spent in Perry County."

"We appreciate the job you're doing," Franzman told him.

"The vets say they appreciate the support the county provides," Hubert replied.

Ambulance Upgrade

Lambert told the council the EMS unit has four ambulances now, a 2006 model with 80,950 miles, a 2003 with 177,000, a 1997 with 221,000 and a 1994 four-wheel-drive model with 106,000 miles.

The latter vehicle "was bought years ago for inclement weather," she explained. "We were asked not to use it for normal runs because it was so expensive."

"We're probably at a point with the (budgetary) constraints that the next ambulance will probably have to be a lease-purchase," Franzman told her, "and we may have to downsize our ambulances."

Lambert pointed out that modular ambulances are "most beneficial to the patient" because paramedics can get to them from either side. Losing that capability "would be like having a cot in the emergency room right up against the wall," she said.

"We have to be careful what we spend on capital equipment," Franzman said. "We may not have quite the options we had in the past. You may have to come up with some options for us." He suggested looking at year-old versus brand-new ambulances.

Capnography equipment monitors carbon-dioxide levels, Lambert explained. Pulmonary-disease, emphysema, head-injury and pediatric patients would be among those who'd benefit. Two units were approved in this year's budget, but were overlooked.

"I didn't think it had been approved," Lambert said.

Berger said she apologized for the oversight in a phone call to Lambert.

Lambert said the EMS station's two crews are seldom needed at one time, but may occasionally need to respond to multi-vehicle accidents. Spencer County ambulance crews no longer respond to Lincoln Ferry Park to stand by, as they did in the past, when two crews are paged out here, she explained.

While "we're fortunate to have ... quality agencies for emergency response in this county, run activity is going up." Last year saw 2,008 ambulance runs, and "as our community ages, we'll have more," she said.

"We will ask you to hold down expenses where you can to help out," Franzman told her. "We appreciate the good job you do."

Berger said she removed a clerical-assistant position from her office's budget for next year and that other staff members can take on the work, saving approximately $4,000.

Franzman said he needed to get clarification on a $79,000 budget for the animal shelter, suggesting it may have mistakenly included money expected from each of the county's cities. He also noted next year's debt-service payment for the county courthouse will be the last.