Reading budget numbers

By Cheri Shelhart

Jasper County Council President Rein Bontreger reads the budget numbers for 2021 during their monthly meeting on Sept. 15.

RENSSELAER — The Jasper County Council approved the budget for 2021 after holding hearings over several days in August.

Council president Rein Bontreger thanked the council for their diligence in going through the budget. He said this year, since more than a decade, the council could not give county employees raises but that they appreciate the hard work they all do for the citizens of the county.

“We appreciate our employees. They’re our county’s best asset,” he said of the employees.

They were, however, able to work with the commissioners to keep the health insurance the same.

The budget keeps the county within its means and is responsible he said. He said they are hoping the state’s growth factor will outpace spending and allow them to come out ahead and to be prepared when NIPSCO closes its Wheatfield plant in 2023. They pared $100,000 from the budget compared to the 2020 budget.

“We also want to recognize the citizens of Jasper County, our friends, neighbors, loved ones, people that we do business with and recognize that they’ve endured some serious hardships this year; nothing like I’ve ever experienced. And recognized that most of our citizens were lucky enough to still have their jobs probably haven’t seen a raise, and I’ve known some businesses that have actually had to close their doors. So we want to acknowledge that we appreciate what everybody’s been going through this year and we really worked hard to present a budget that would live within our means,” Bontreger said.

He said the last couple of years they’ve been “teetering” on a little deficit.

After reading the budget numbers, the council voted to adopt the budget, which will be sent to the State Board of Accounts for approval.

Auditor Kim Grow said there is a possibility that the council will have to make further cuts once the State Board of Accounts reviews the numbers. She said they expect income taxes to be down due to unemployment as well as people paying their property taxes late. She said when she gets the information from the state, they may have to have an emergency meeting if more cuts need to be made. She said Jasper County is one of the first counties in the state to have their budget done.

As they do each year, the council is required to hear from entities whose budgets are not under the authority of the council including the Rensselaer Central School Corp., Jasper County Airport Authority, Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District and the Iroquois River Conservancy.

After each department gave a brief statement on their budgets and what has occurred over the year, Bontreger made an obligatory remark to keep spending below the state’s estimated growth factor of 4.3%.

Rensselaer Central School Corp. Superintendent Curtis Craig said the corporation has been very cautious over the last few years and do have a reserve.

“We should be able to maintain and do great things,” he said.

Airport FBO Ray Seif said despite the pandemic, fuel sales actually increased this year, and that is good for the airport and local businesses inside and out of the airport. The 2021 budget reflects the postponement of a $300,000 hanger improvement so the cumulative building fund reflects a decrease of that amount.

As the county with the highest assessed values in property, Jasper County is delegated to hear the budget for the Indiana Solid Waste District, which includes five other counties. With the loss of NIPSCO, that responsibility will likely end up in White County in the future. The solid waste district operates solely on tipping fees from landfills in Newton and White counties and no tax dollars are included.

Dan Blaney spoke for the Iroquois River Conservancy District. He said they are trying to keep farmers happy in both counties and also keeping the river clean. The district pays for monitoring of the water. They also monitor the river through the use of drones to locate logjams that need to be removed.

“We’ve been successful in getting the big log jams out,” he said.

The Friends of the Iroquois River assist in removing smaller log jams, he said.