The St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners vetoed the county’s 2022 budget Tuesday. That’s after the county council approved it in a 6-3 party-line vote last week.
The issue? Raises for county employees – the budget raises the minimum yearly salary to $32,000 a year, or about $16.41 an hour. Other county officials – including members of the county council and board of commissioners – would also receive raises.
The commissioners said they don’t object to those raises, but they wanted a more concrete plan for how they’re administered.
“[A] major point that I’ve seen since the 10 months I’ve been here is the kind of a lack of a plan when we give raises and how we do raises and what the parameters of giving a specific person and/or position in county government,” Commissioner Derek Dieter said Tuesday.
Dieter said that kind of study hasn’t been conducted since the mid-2000s, and he and Councilman Bobby Kruszynski will work with the county’s HR director to develop it over the next year.
Commissioners President Andy Kostielney said though he liked “a large number of aspects of this budget” and supported paying county employees a fair salary, he generally agreed with Dieter.
“It would have been nicer to see this more staggered going in,” Kostielney said. “There were some departments also that did not get a larger increase than others did, so I think it would be nice to have some consistency.”
Commissioners also voiced concerns about the amount of spending in the budget. The county plans to spend $2-3 million more than it expects to collect in revenue – but members of the county council say that’s balanced by healthy cash reserves and years of planning for deficit spending.
“We can’t do this every year,” Councilman Corey Noland said at the council’s Oct. 12 meeting. “But it’s time, and we have the ability to, and I think it’d be a shame if we didn’t.”
The county currently has $26 million in cash reserves, or about 30 percent of its general fund. Still, Commissioner Deb Fleming objected to spending down those reserves.
“I just always wanted to make sure that we planned our budget and everything so that it was within what we had, so we weren’t dropping down,” Fleming said.
The budget now returns to the county council, which can override the commissioners’ veto with a two-thirds majority vote.
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