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The Decatur County Council sits and plans for 2008.

With en eye on equity, the Decatur County Council set pencil to paper Wednesday, working to pare down the budget.

The goal was to bring a requested budget of almost $6.8 million down to a state-suggested budget of $6.2 million.

Placing people first, the morning began with a discussion of wages. Nearly every county employee can expect to see an increase in their paycheck for 2008. Councilman Ernest Gauck turned to his calculator to get a better idea of the way next year’s total increases will look on the individual scale. The average full-time county employee can expect an increase of $800 annually as compared to 2007. Contributing a little extra, the Council chose to boost the salaries of sheriff’s deputies and the superintendents of both the Highway Department and Parks and Recreation by $1,200 annually.

The Council thought these increases were more than fair.

“I’ve been told that our highway workers make more than the state’s,” said Councilman Kenneth Owens.

Gauck believes the higher salaries acted as an incentive.

“The thought has been, they would do more with less (smaller departmental budgets) if we pay them more. That turns out to be right,” explained Gauck.

Once the members made sure none of their people would go without, it was time to begin slicing away more than a half-million dollars from budgets originally requested by department heads. Every department will see reductions to their proposals, but none will see a decrease from last year’s funding. The largest reductions took place in the area of service and maintenance contracts.

According to Bridgett Weber, County Auditor, this is not a new struggle, but has been augmented for the upcoming year. In the past, departments would submit these large expenses to the County Commissioners. This caused the Commissioners budget to come up short and it was often hard for those in local government to define why. This year, departments are required to include service and maintenance contracts in their own budgets so the cause of the expense can be documented.

After each individual budget had been deliberated over, the Council brought the total budget down to $6.15 million. This allowed them to go back to things they hoped for but could not guarantee until the bulk of the cuts were made.

“We need to add money for a new van for the coroner; something that will last,” Owens said.

While the County Coroner requested funds for a used vehicle, the Council wanted to make sure to do something to help him in the job none of the members envied him for holding.

Near the end of deliberations, there was one more important item to add.

“If you don’t think I’m doing a good job, give me the $800 raise but I’d like to see the other elected officials get $1200,” said Weber.

With very little debate, the Council approved the increase for elected officials, including the County Commissioners but not themselves. As part-time officials they halved the customary increase and raised pay for Council members by $400.

This move brought the budget to the expected $6.2 million mark which was set out by budget advisor Frank Cummings.

A public hearing on the county’s budget will be held at 9 a.m. on Aug. 31 in the courthouse.

See a breakdown on each department’s budget and proposed spending in an upcoming edition of the Daily News.

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