COLUMBIA CITY — The Whitley County Council had its first meeting of the year on Tuesday, Jan. 8, with its first order of business being the decision to allow council members to remain in their respective officer roles.

Sheriff Marc Gatton, following the receipt of a “favorable pass” from the Whitley County Commissioners the day before, asked for council permission to add a new deputy position to the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department. In light of increased traffic passing through the court and an increased jail population, Gatton advised that the ideal number of deputies for the department was 21. The number currently sits at 17 deputies.

“One of the duties of the sheriff’s department is to be a servant of the court,” Gatton said. “The workload flows to us it doesn’t matter what agency arrests the person they come to the sheriff’s department.”

Judge Douglas Fahl, who was present that day on a different matter, corroborated those facts, stating that there are a lot of demands that the sheriff’s department answers and even one more officer could make a difference.

Gatton informed the council that the department was considering three candidates with various levels of prior law enforcement experience. Based on the calculations of the position’s expected salary as well as benefits, Gatton stated that this new deputy would cost about $78,305. Both he and Whitley County Auditor Jana Schinbeckler confirmed that this amount was sustainable through the department’s local option income tax fund.

Despite these facts, council member Kim Wheeler requested that the item be tabled until the February meeting to give the council more time to look at the information. Most of the board members appeared to be in agreement, but new council member Tim Kumfer pointed out that this delay could result in the loss of those candidates to other agencies. Gatton agreed that this was a possibility.

“I can’t say that we will or won’t (lose candidates), but I know some of them are actively looking at other departments,” Gatton said.

That being said, the council ended up voting unanimously to delay the approval of this additional position until February.

Two representatives from the county clerk’s office spoke to the council during Tuesday’s meeting about some conflicts they had encountered with the provider of the courts’ case management software. According to Debbie Beers, who works in the clerk’s office, the company CSI had given her a cost estimate earlier in 2018 that ended up doubling by the time the department was billed.

Despite back-and-forth dialogue between CSI and the clerk’s office, the company has refused to honor the original quote. Beers advised the council that they were in the process of dropping CSI in favor of the state-run Odyssey program and that they were expected to go live in May. Unfortunately, CSI has also denied the department’s request to receive a pro-rated cost for the four months that the system will actually be used.

Beers stated that they were considering getting attorneys involved to help sort out this issue. In the meantime, the office needed permission to utilize funds to cover that additional cost, amounting to about $6,578. Permission was granted by the council 7-0.

Cindy Doolittle of the clerk’s office also had an additional appropriation request for $11,145 to help pay for the salary of an employee who was no longer being paid through the child support program. This request was also approved 7-0.

Representatives from several other local agencies and departments also went before the council on Jan. 8 to request approval for encumbrances which would allow these departments to take unused funds from 2018 and utilize them during the 2019 fiscal year. Some departments present included the Whitey County Superior Court, Whitley County Prosecutors, Whitley County EMA and the county highway and planning and building departments.

All of the encumbrance requests were unanimously approved by the council.

The council also re-approved a revised edition of the 2019 Salary Ordinance that had previously included a few errors that were later fixed by Schinbeckler.