Legal services expenditures in the Kosciusko County Commissioners’ budget have been an issue for the County Council the past two years, but the two government bodies are working to restore the trust, beginning with a transfer request Thursday.

Commissioner Cary Groninger requested a transfer of $50,000 in the county cumulative capital development fund from land and improvement to legal services during the Council’s meeting Thursday.

“Hopefully, you guys all received the information I sent here a while back with the billing, as well as the hours and also just a letter ... with some highlights of some of the things we’re doing and some of the things that were going on and, also, a comparison of legal fees of area counties,” he said.

At this point, he said, they’ve put “legal and legal expenses” on hold until they have some additional funding. While the transfer request was for $50,000, he said it could be reduced to around $41,000 because the transfer was tabled from the July meeting to August.

“Looking at what we’ve spent for six months, that’s roughly about an $8,100 a month cost, so five months that’s how I came up with the $41,000,” Groninger explained. “I realize it’s a large transfer, but I think we’ve got to make sure we have good legal counsel to represent us here because there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot happening right now.”

He said the county has some projects they’ve put on hold until they can get the transfer or come to an agreement to get additional funding.

“We did have some additional requests that were reached out to us as far as some things they’d like to see, some additional detailed billing on all things for the legal fees, except for the contract negotiations, HR issues and land acquisitions, contracts, those types of things will be the things that wouldn’t be spelled out just because they’re confidentiality in nature. The remainder of the bill could be spelled out in more detail,” Groninger said.

One of the other things that was requested, he said, was for all bills to be submitted by the 15th of each month so they can be kept up-to-date and to make sure “we’re staying on target as best as we can.”

Councilman Ernie Wiggins said he appreciated the amount of time that was put into the information given to the Council. “Honestly, at this point in time, I’m not comfortable with $50,000 right here. But what I would be comfortable with is doing a transfer of $5,000; have them come back each month. If you’re doing what you say you’re going to do, with the timely billing, then I think that shows some good faith from the Council willing to work with the Commissioners,” Wiggins said, then making a motion to approve a $5,000 transfer with the caveat for the Commissioners to come back in September for the same consideration.

Councilwoman Joni Truex seconded the motion.

Council President Sue Ann Mitchell said, “I think that this is a way to rebuild that trust,” from the transfer of an additional $63,000 for legal services in 2021 “to where we’re at today. And our goal is to get to where we can make this happen.”

At the Council’s Sept. 9, 2021, meeting, the Council voted to increase the County Commissioners’ legal services budget for county attorney Ed Ormsby only by 4% to $60,320 in 2022. The Commissioners requested $131,000 for legal services for 2022, saying the previous county attorneys underbilled the county. Ormsby began as county attorney Jan. 1, 2021.

Some of the special projects Ormsby worked on in 2021 for the Commissioners included the county being a Constitutional Sanctuary County and a Second Amendment Sanctuary County.

By October 2021, Commissioners and Ormsby did away with their contract and Ormbsy began charging  $200 per hour as the county attorney, with some county departments having to pay for their own attorneys out of their own budgets.

In January 2022, the Council approved 4-3 a transfer of $63,000 in the CCD Fund from land and improvements to legal services for Ormsby’s 2021 bill, in addition to what was budgeted.

On Thursday, Mitchell asked if the $50,000 transfer the Commissioners were asking for included the Kosciusko County Highway Department legal fees. The KCHD was on the Council’s agenda asking for an additional appropriation of $10,000 for legal services in the motor vehicle highway fund.

“Because,” she said, “when the call came to me, after (KCHD Superintendent) Steve (Moriarty) was told to call me, when he didn’t have any money, I told Steve that he either needed to do a transfer or an additional appropriation out of his funds. So we don’t want to double that up.”

Groninger said he would prefer, with the Council’s permission, that they would keep that in the Commissioners’ budget because the Highway Department does report directly to the Commissioners. He said there is a fair amount of work being done on the CR 1300N project that the county would like to get going on.

Truex asked Groninger if he thought Moriarty wouldn’t need the full $10,000 then. Groninger said he didn’t want to speak for Moriarty but there were some pressing issues on CR 1300N. Moriarty said there was more than just that - three or four other projects that needed the county attorney to review, including Husky Trail and bridge No. 123.

When Truex asked if they could still stay within that $5,000 transfer, Commissioner Brad Jackson said no but $10,000 would be a safe bet.

Councilman Mike Long asked if the legal work was backed up. Groninger said there’s work that needs to be done, but they haven’t allowed the county attorney to do it.

Wiggins said he was prepared to approve the $10,000 additional appropriation for the KCHD later in the meeting, but now the Commissioners want that under their budget. Long suggested adding $2,000 a month for the highway department to the $5,000. Moriarty said he’s always used the county attorney to review any and all of the KCHD contracts. Truex said Moriarty’s legal needs seem to be more time sensitive.

Wiggins amended his motion to do a transfer of $15,000 for this month and $5,000 for the following month so they wouldn’t have to do the additional appropriation for the highway department. Truex seconded the amended motion and it was approved 6-0. Councilwoman Kathleen Groninger was absent from Thursday’s meeting.