- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - Officials in a financially-strapped southern Indiana county are weighing whether to sell off some county-owned properties and boost local income taxes to deal with a deepening budget crisis.

The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance has warned Floyd County officials that the county’s $12.4 million general fund could have as little as $18,000 remaining by the end of year, leaving little money for emergencies.

County council members and the county’s commissioners have prepared a short list of land and buildings that could be sold, including the idea of selling Floyd Memorial Hospital in New Albany.

“There are several things we could look at. None of it’s pretty,” Brad Striegel, a Democratic county council member, told The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky. (http://cjky.it/OdjTBv ).

The Ohio River county with some 75,000 residents has been hard-hit by Indiana’s elimination of its inheritance tax and big cuts in state road funding that once provided it with hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Floyd County was also saddled with more than $2.6 million in costs for two high-profile murder trials, including that of one-time Indiana State Trooper David Camm, who was acquitted in October in the 2000 killings of his wife and two children.

County officials dug into economic-development income and riverboat funds to pay for those trial bills.

But Floyd County’s budget woes have already prompted the county council to slash budgets by 25 percent for all departments receiving general fund money, affecting everything from public defenders to the sheriff’s department.

County employees were also hit with higher premiums when the county sliced its health insurance costs by $800,000.

Among the properties officials are considering selling off are the 4-H Fairgrounds, a 26-acre property the county received in a swap with adjacent Georgetown and Floyd Memorial Hospital.

Republican council president Jim Wathen said getting broad support for a hospital sale would be difficult, but county government would also receive several million dollars a year from having the property back on the tax rolls. The hospital is currently tax-exempt because it is government owned.

Councilman John Schellenberger said he’s receptive to boosting the county’s two income taxes. The combined tax rate is 1.15 percent, but at 2 percent the county would receive an estimated $4 million more each year.

Schellenberger complained that the county council has avoided tough decisions, but that cannot continue.

“You fight the same battle every year. Something’s got to give,” he said.

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