By Sabrina Westfall
The Knox County Council is preparing for the 2015 budget session, and members have some priorities as they look over the line items.
Council Vice President Bob Lechner and member Nichole Like stressed the importance of public safety as they look over the proposed budgets starting Sept. 9 in the Commissioners Room of the Knox County Courthouse.
Like said Knox County Sheriff Mike Morris plans to request the funding for another road deputy to be included in his 2015 budget. This would add another officer to the current 22-deputy force.
Lechner said through previous budgets the county has been able to help with the implementation of school resource offices, which has been a huge asset to the communities which they serve.
“Public safety is a primary focus of all county government,” Lechner stressed.
Another item the council annually considers is the raise of county government employees, according to Lechner. He said each year the fiscal responsibility of the council has allowed annual raises among the employees.
Like stressed she hopes the council will be able to once again assist the Knox County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program with additional funds. During the 2014 budget session, CASA director Dena Held came before the council and explained the ongoing need for volunteers to help children who have been abused or neglected and are making their way through the courts system.
In an effort to help reduce the number of children on the waiting list for a volunteer, the Knox County Council approved additional funding to hire an additional part-time employee to help with recruitment.
Like added through a grant, the CASA program was able to hire Mary Miller as a full-time employee to focus on recruitment.
“Through the hard work of the CASA and the efforts of Mary, they were able to swear in seven new volunteers,” Like said. “I have a vision of no child in Knox County waiting on a CASA, and I want to work towards that.”
Like added another big priority for the council has been budgeting enough funds for the Knox County Highway Department to ensure county roads and projects remain in good condition.
Funds have also been used to build a larger salt storage building and additional funding to help with fixing county roads due to impact of last winter’s harsh conditions.
Lechner stressed as these line items are considered, the council finds it important to remain fiscally responsible with the taxpayers’ money and have tried to keep a reserve of money put back in case of an emergency.
“Some government approach is to spend 105 percent of the revenue, so they don’t have to account for the balance. We take the opposite approach because of unforeseen circumstances and expenses,” Lechner said.
Like said two large scale projects brought before the council in 2014 proved this practice has been the best one with the replacement of Bridge No. 8 on Washington Avenue in Vincennes and the needed upgrade of the Knox County E911 system. Both projects were not budgetted for 2014, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Last year, the council worked with a $9.28 million budget for 2014. Like said this year the growth quotient approved by the State Board of Accounts is just under 3 percent.
Like said the three day process of putting the budget together will begin with department head presentations. From there, the council will go through the proposed budget line by line.
“These are dollars that are taken out of taxpayers’ budgets. Every single dollar, we have to take seriously because people work hard for their money,” Like said.