COLUMBIA CITY — The Whitley County Council heard from several department leaders in its budget hearing held earlier this month — Scott Wagner from the Health Department, Amy Biggs from the Emergency Management Agency, Sheriff Marc Gatton and Maintenance Director Mark Sturtevant.

EMA employee

Biggs approached the council requesting funds to change her deputy director position from part-time to full-time. Half of the salary is funded by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, and Biggs requested funds from the county to cover the rest.

Though the EMA office is open during regular business hours, her work is 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“Our hours go way beyond office hours in regards to support of the community,” Biggs said. “The era of EMA being a small office in the basement of a building is no longer.”

Biggs and Deputy Director Ed Scott have been working with local nursing homes, school systems, Passages Inc., Whitley County 4-H Fair leaders and festival coordinators.

“We have evolved immensely in the last 10 years and we continue to grow,” Biggs said. “It would be even better if I had a full-time deputy.”

The council approved the funds to change the position until full-time with a salary of $35,100 by a 5-2 vote.

Health Dept. program

Scott Wagner, from the Whitley County Health Department, requested moving the nurse’s salary back onto the tax levy to allow for a new community education program.

The nurse’s position used to be paid for by tax dollars, but during the recession it was transitioned over to a state grant due to budget cuts.

Now that another grant opportunity has opened up for community education, Wagner requested the nurse’s pay be moved back to the tax levy so grant money can be used for the program, which includes education in schools and for other community members. Topics covered include sexually transmitted diseases, vaccinations, nutrition, smoking during pregnancy, drug prevention and hygiene.

The contract with the health educator is $30,000 a year.

Councilman Jim Bayman was hesitant to approve such a large amount of funds for a new program.

“I don’t want to just throw $30,000 out there,” Bayman said. “It’s a new program and we don’t know how much we need to spend.”

Councilman Thor Hodges disagreed.

“I think it is a fair price and a good outreach to the community,” Hodges said.

The change in the funds was approved unanimously.

Sheriff’s department

Sheriff Gatton requested the council approve the addition of a confinement officer for the jail.

“We keep getting warnings (from the state) to increase staff levels,” Gatton said.

The council approved the addition of a jailer, which increases the total to 19. The state recommends 26. The state also suggests 20 deputies, and the county has 17.

The funds for the additional officer was approved by a 5-2 vote.

Gatton, along with communications director Janelle Schmitt, requested the council not decrease the equipment and maintenance budget for the 911 fund. In the proposed budget, the council reduced the amount to $62,000 from $70,000. However, equipment maintenance contracts total $65,200. The council approved raising that fund back to $70,000.

Maintenance department

Sturtevant approached the council after a proposed budget cut for his department partially due to extra funds in his account this year. There is still $13,000 of the $22,000 annual dollars in the fund — with only three full months left in the year.

“I expect to use the other money for ice melt and other janitorial supplies,” Sturtevant said. He also indicated that extra funds are used to purchase equipment.

Last December, $6,822 was spent in the month, with about $3,000 going toward a new floor scrubber for the courthouse.

The council chose to disregard his request and indicated if the maintenance department needs more funds later, he can approach the council again.