Different county departments presented their budget requests earlier this month, and several stepped in to ask for budget increases, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in increases.
Among those asking for increases to their 2021 budgets were Howard County Sheriff Jerry Asher, Coroner Dr. Steve Seele, and Health Department Administrator James Vest.
For next year, the sheriff’s department requested $3,374,690, an increase of $177,388 from the 2020 adopted budget.
According to Asher, the sheriff’s department’s budget has been tight this year. Asher said cuts were made to some of the service contracts that the department uses, such as record managemen and the computer dispatch system.
With his 2021 budget request, Asher said he had the same goal he has every year for the budget: to be as responsible as possible with the funds.
“My goal is to always be as fiscally responsible with taxpayer’s money,” Asher said. “I think that should be the goal of any publicly-elected official. We knew that this year was going to be fairly tight with the COVID situation going on. We knew that that was going to be a little tight on the budget.”
For 2021, Howard County Coroner Dr. Steve Seele foresees the need for a larger budget, as death investigations have been up significantly.
According to the second quarter report released on June 30, the coroner’s office investigated 83 deaths that quarter. The number, according to Seele, was up 35 to 40 cases compared to the same time last year. Seele’s budget request reflected that.
“I went back to the first several months of the year and averaged that we were spending about $22,000 a month,” Seele said. “It used to be about $15,000, but this year, it’s just abnormally high.”
According to Seele, higher costs stemmed from an increase in toxicology and blood work, a necessary addition that came from the increases in investigated deaths.
For 2021, the coroner’s office requested $368,075, an increase of $5,646 from the 2020 budget of $362,429.
Seele also added that while he almost always requests a flat budget, it was not unusual for him to request additional funds later in the year, which was done this year. For example, the 2020 total budget was $472,432 after Seele requested an additional increase of $110,003 from the original budget.
The Howard County Health Department asked for an increase to the 2021 budget with the hope of adding an additional position for the nursing staff.
According to administrator James Vest, this was necessary as communicable diseases locally were on the rise. Vest said communicable diseases like hepatitis B and C, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea have nearly doubled over the last 20 years. The sharp increase, Vest said, has been difficult for the health department to handle, so the addition of a nurse to the 2021 requested budget was a much-needed one.
“In addition, to handling reports and follow-up investigations, we’re also responsible for completing our own HIV and hepatitis testing,” Vest said. “We’re the only site in Howard County to offer free testing. With the additional nurse, we can expand our services to the county. It’s a great thing; we really appreciate it. “
The requested budget for 2021 was $1,482,774, an increase of $242,084 from the 2020 adopted budget.
Other departments that requested increases included the plan commission, which increased from $248,691 in 2020 to $250,000 in 2021. The county commissioners requested $3,035,074, an increase from the $2,823,377 2020 adopted budget. The county clerk requested a decrease, lowering its 2021 requested budget to $808,173, down from their $972,206.
Adjustments and adoption of county funds will begin Sept. 22.