Who are you going to call if your road needs a sign or a bridge seems to need an inspection? Where can you find court forms asking for a settlement with your landlord? Where are child support numbers? Which government — city or county — in charge of these services? We may not know because county government is complex and more collaborative than most of us realize.
For this reason, County Administrator Tom Klein presented County Government 101 to the Chamber of Commerce and the public on Sept. 13. The League of Women Voters co-sponsored the forum where Klein mapped the many departments of county government.
Klein shared examples of when citizens call a county department for issues that are within city limits, or contact the wrong department, uncertain who does what. Some commonly confused circumstances include calling the highway department for a city road issue or housing code enforcement.
It’s fair, because Klein noted that “all city residents are county residents.” Not all county residents or county business affects the city, making the boundaries between the two hard to separate. The lines between executive and legislative branches in the county are not distinct as they are in city, state and national government. As administrator, he facilitates the highly collaborative work of the many county departments.
Klein thinks many locals would be surprised at the size of the county government. It has a $37 million budget, nearly two dozen elected officials, dozens of departments and more than 200 employees. We voted for the 22 officials -— visit the county government website at https://www.montgomerycounty.in.gov/government to read descriptions of the offices and departments as well as to read the bios of our elected officials. It’s a good way to inform yourself, especially before staring at a ballot and wondering “Who is this person?” Klein onboards new hires for unelected positions. Recently, he walked new employees through the County 101 basics so they can help locals know who to call, who to email, where to show up.
Klein peppered his talk with nuggets of trivia. Did you know that roads within city limits are maintained by city personnel? Bridges in the city are the county engineering office’s responsibility. The sheriff works for the county. The police chief does not. The county offers veterans’ services. The county maintains property records, emergency management and the court system. The county runs our centralized dispatch, but partners with the city. The sheriff and jail are county-wide, as is the health department, the coroner, the treasurer and the clerk. So if you need birth and marriage records or marriage licenses, the county handles that. Land assessing, records of parcels and records for tax purposes are county responsibilities. The GIS mapping system oversees parcels of land for property lines, taxation and record purposes. It regulates weights and measures, so it inspects all gas pumps.
The court system answers to the state but is a county department. It includes the public defender, probation, child support and small claims, not just criminal cases.
The health department has been most prominent through the pandemic. It has coordinated and provided testing and vaccination. It kept pastors, organizational leaders and citizens informed, set up testing and mass vaccination clinics. Its work remains prominent as the pandemic continues and seems to be heading toward becoming endemic.
County departments are revving up. This year’s vision includes bringing 100 jobs and 100 houses to the county. The council, which supervises the budget, has approved the American Rescue Plan funds to help with economic development by improving and expanding the county’s water infrastructure. The rest is allocated for non-profits and tourism which suffered during the pandemic and covering lost revenue. To find out more about the budget, visit the library to view this year’s budget book. It graphs all the funds and provides descriptions of all department responsibilities. For more ways to get informed, check out Klein’s interviews and meeting summary videos on the Montgomery County Government’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds can help locals follow along with our government.
The League of Women Voters will feature Klein for Learn with the League in October. Details are forthcoming on the LWVMC Facebook page. He began last week’s talk with a short quiz, including the question “Who can arrest the sheriff?” If you don’t know the answer, attend Learn with the League and ask. No more spoilers on the great information you will learn.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.