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September 3, 2015 • Headline News
This welder works on the steel frame at the new Woodmizer building that is going up at Batesville’s Industrial Park off of Lammers Pike. The sawmill manufacturer plans to open in December a 85,000 square foot building on 13 acres and bring 120 jobs. MARY MATTINGLY PHOTO
The Versailles Dairy Queen was recognized for 35 years of service. The national DQ chain presented plaques in appreciation to owners (from left) Larry and Brenda Armbrecht and Phyllis and Ed Armbrecht. The Dairy Queen is located on South Adams Street. MARY MATTINGLY PHOTO
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Dept. heads present their 2016 budgets this week
Council ‘watching the money’

Mary Mattingly

This week Ripley County Council will draft the county’s 2016 budget. It’s the council’s most important task. “It’s our biggest function, that is to watch the county’s money,” said Ed Armbrecht, council member and also part of the finance committee. County commissioners set policy, and make financial recommendations, but it’s the council’s role to appropriate the funds. “This lays the groundwork fo the county operations, If we don’t do it right, we could kiss next year goodbye,” said Dephane Smith, a 17 year council member.

Pictured left, the sheriff presents his budget request to the council Tuesday. They met this week.

Between the county general fund and CAGIT (County Adjusted Gross Income Tax) funds, the county operates on a $16-$18 million budget. The requests this year are over $200,000-$300,000, according to Armbrecht.

The process
The whole budget process actually begins in late May. By July 1, all department heads must submit financial projections within the perimeters communicated by council. This year, the finance committee met and recommended a 2 percent pay increase for employees, with no increase for operations. The seven-member council sets aside 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday of this week for budget review. However, as long as the department heads have met the council’s guidelines, they won’t have to meet with council. Few, if any, department managers have submitted a budget less than last year’s. The state will not likely provide additional revenue, at least the county is not counting on it, Auditor Bill Wagner told Ripley Publishing. Last year the council approved a $16.2 million budget, with a 2 percent increase for employees but also with a 2 percent cut from department budgets.

Many of the department heads have already given council a heads up about their needs, particularly if there was something out of the ordinary or a capital expense. For example, the council knows the sheriff’s department is looking at updating the jail software, a costly six figure expense. Whether there is money for it is yet to be seen. “Everybody wants something. We have to decide what we have and can allocate,” Smith said. Even non-profits are requested to present a financial statement if they are seeking county funds. “We’re not trying to be mean or anything, but we need to see if there is a need and balance it with other requests,” Armbrecht said. Non-profits were cut last year, but they have budgeted some for this year, Wagner said. These groups provide a service, such as LifeTime Resources, New Horizons, Family Connections, 4-H, Safe Passage and Heart House. The largest appropriation goes to the Community Mental Health facility in Lawrenceburg at $155,000. It’s mandated by the state the county provide financial support to the mental health facility.

Appropriating required
All money has to be appropriated, even most state grants (including the new Community Corrections program funding, even though council does not oversee it; a 19 member board does.) Armbrecht, who retired from the state board of accounts office, says “If the money comes through the auditor and treasurer’s offices, 99 percent has to be approved before it is spent in a budget form.” That’s the law. “Indiana is not bankrupt and that’s part of the reason. If we have a shortfall we can’t spend more money then we have. It’s a good law,” Armbrecht commented.

In his opinion, Ripley County is in good financial shape, compared to other counties in the state. Wagner was at a meeting up north and was told some counties have not had pay raises in five years. Nearby Franklin County has struggled. “Ripley County is in good shape with what we have to work with,” Smith added. One reason is the county has a cash reserve of about $2 million, generated from a surplus of the general fund over the years. Also, the council is typically financially conservative and elected officials and/or department heads do not make requests out of line.

Large departments

There are 26 departments with 53 different funds that operate under county government. Those departments prepared over 90 budgets. The one with the biggest budget is the highway dept. with an annual budget of $4.5 million. Payroll is 30 percent of that, and the rest is for materials, equipment and maintenance. The sheriff and jail offices are also large departments with a $2.3 million budget ($1.3 million for the jail, $1 million for sheriff). Of that 78 percent goes toward payroll, and that doesn’t include the county’s share of benefits, such as social security, medical and retirement pensions. Wagner noted the county pays out $1.1 million on health premiums for all employees (146 full-time employees). Payroll and benefits is 70 percent of the county general fund. It costs a lot to keep the public safe though. The entire court system, considering circuit and superior court, probation, prosecutor’s office, costs $4. 7 million. Some examples: circuit court, $262,077, with $50,000 for pauper counsel, $20,000 for jury fees; and Superior Court at $238,608; probation, $427,147, with administrative fees at $41,248, and $8000 for juvenile; Prosecutor’s office is $228,266 including child support at $134,007, victim assistance at $150,114.

The health department is also costly, operating at $339,000 budget, but they get much of their revenue from grants and reimbursements. The clerk’s office has planned for additional expenses of about $85,000 for the 2016 election. But no department brings in enough revenue to cover their expenses or payroll, Wagner said. The smaller departments would be those with few employees, such as Veteran’s services (two employees), EMA and coroner. Council would like to allocate every request, but it’s not feasible. “It’s difficult sometimes to determine the wants versus the needs” Armbrecht says.
Council will review each budget, making adjustments if need be. A public hearing on the 2016 budget will be held at the council meeting Sept. 21 and the budget is set to be adopted on Oct. 19. It will then be submitted to the state. “It’s a big project,” Smith said of drafting a budget, “but if you take one step at a time it’s not so overwhelming. ”

Witness to Griffin: “Sorry isn’t enough”
Families share impact of drunk driving accident at hearing

Witnesses spoke for over five hours Monday at the sentencing hearing of a 2009 South Ripley graduate who pleaded guilty in July to felony charges of operating a vehicle causing death and four counts of serious bodily injury. Jordan Griffin, 24, formerly of Versailles, was intoxicated when he collided with another vehicle on US 421, near the Jefferson Proving Grounds, killing his passenger, 21-year-old John Walker of Kansas, and injuring five others in the other vehicle.

Griffin entered into an open plea, which allows Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Darrell Auxier to issue a sentence that could range up to 22 years in prison, according to the Madison Courier. Griffin’s defense attorney, Jason Pattison, asked the judge at the hearing Monday to take into consideration Griffin’s age, his military service and his remorse for his actions during the sentencing. Chief Deputy Prosecutor D.J. Mote requested Griffin be sentenced to 18 years. He also requested more than $500,000 in medical expenses be paid to the victims who were riding in the vehicle Griffin struck on Oct. 4, 2014.
Witnesses from both Griffin’s family and the victims’ families also addressed the judge.

The witnesses for the prosecution told of erratic driving that caused the death of John Walker, and severe injuries to Charles McRoberts, Jr., the driver of the other vehicle, and four juveniles in McRoberts’ vehicle. Charles and Angel McRoberts, his wife, live in Versailles. Amanda Smith, the mother of one of the injured children in McRobert’s vehicle, and Angel McRoberts both spoke of the lasting consequences the accident has on their children. Smith’s son continues to have problems from his brain injury. McRoberts said her daughter was on life support for 24 hours, and the injured children and her husband deal with short-term memory loss, nightmares and anger. The medical expenses have taken everything they had worked for. Still, Angel McRoberts testified that she didn’t hate Griffin and wanted him to get help, but “saying you’re sorry isn’t enough.”

Police testified the data recorder from Griffin’s vehicle was traveling at 79.9 mph at the time of impact and his blood alcohol level following the crash registered at .38 – nearly four times the legal limit. Walker’s family came from Arkansas City, Kansas, to tell the judge about the impact of the crash to their family. “That accident has ruined our lives,” his sister Skyla Walker said. “There is no happiness at our house.”

Witnesses for the defense testified to Griffin’s childhood, his high school years and his service in the Army. Griffin’s mother and father, who adopted him just hours after he was born, told of a son that was well behaved growing up, but began to have issues at age 7. His parents divorced that year. Griffin’s middle school years proved to be troubled, but he transferred to South Ripley High School where he excelled and graduated from high school. Greg Griffin said he knew his son Jordan was intoxicated while he was at the house, but John Walker drove away from the house not Jordan. Jordan Griffin’s mother, Kathy, noted her son’s drinking increased after his deployment to Afghanistan.

During his own testimony, Jordan Griffin admitted to getting into trouble with law enforcement as a teenager because of alcohol. He enlisted in the infantry to be closer to the action in 2011. He became a squad leader and second in command of his platoon. He earned several service medals and awards and he had re-enlisted in February 2014 with the hope of making the Army his career. Jordan Griffin doesn’t remember the drive or the crash. “I will never forgive myself for what I’ve done,” he said. “I cannot make any of this right.” Griffin’s sentence will be announced in the next few weeks.
-- Madison Courier

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