The Porter County
Council denied 5-2 Auditor Robert Wichlinski’s request to approve staff and
payroll changes in his office.
Wichlinski made the
same requests before the Council in February but was told to come back when
council members could get a better idea if the restructuring was working.
In the meantime,
Wichlinski reduced his staff from 19 to 14 employees and changed the
structure so the remaining employees could be cross-trained and perform
tasks more efficiently, he has said.
The new set-up has
freed up $178,356 in the County’s General Fund so far, Wichlinski said.
compared the savings to how much Wichlinski is spending on consultants.
Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, asked Wichlinski how much is being paid to Hannon and
Hannon for tracking homestead exemptions and what is the nature of the work.
The contract is not
to exceed $90,000 annually, Wichlinski said, and the consultant calls
companies and individuals around the country to find out if their property
in Porter County is in violation of an exemption by asking specific
Rivas asked why
Wichlinski didn’t have his staff do the work in-house. “They couldn’t pick
up the phone and ask questions?” he said.
having the consultants allows the staff to work on other tasks and the
crackdown has brought in $2.4 million.
That money has been
deposited in the Auditor’s non-reverting fund created specifically for
collecting back taxes and to streamline the County’s spring and fall
property tax billing process.
Wichlinski said the
current balance in the fund is $300,000. The fund is also utilized by the
Assessor, Treasurer and the Recorder to improve services in their offices,
In addition to
Hannon and Hannon, Wichlinksi is paying another consultant, Jim Bennett,
with a contract not to exceed $90,000 annually, to help train employees.
Robert Poparad, D-at large, asked if there were any savings with Wichlinski
spending up to $180,000 on his two consultants. He suggested rolling the
$300,000 in the non-reverting fund back into the General Fund and hire back
the let-go employees.
“A lot of knowledge
walked out the door,” Poparad said, which garnered a round of “thank you’s”
from employees sitting in the audience.
Biggs came to
Wichlinski’s defense saying that in the wake of the County’s current budget
dilemma, the Auditor is taking a leading step by cutting staff.
departments to come back with cuts or we will make cuts for them. (Wichlinski)
has done that. We’re not going to get this straightened out by saving on
paper and pencils. It’s personnel,” Biggs said.
Dan Whitten, D-at large, asked Biggs if he was okay with Wichlinski paying
consultants $180,000 a year instead of using staff to which Biggs replied in
the affirmative because they are performing a role in the office.
Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said she wanted the record to reflect that she
“did not tell any department head to fire people.”
Biggs added that no
one the Council has said that. But Graham stated, “it has been insinuated as
In regards to how
well the restructuring has held up, Wichlinski said that even with fewer
staff, the tax bills were mailed out one week ahead of time.
In the end,
Wichlinksi’s requests - which carried salary increases totaling $34,000 -
were rejected with a 5-2 vote.
Voting to deny were
Whitten, Poparad, Graham, Rivas, and Karen Conover, R-3rd. Voting to approve
were Biggs and Jim Polarek, R-4th.
Hospital Sale Funds
reported there were three responses to the Council’s request for information
related to the creation of a charitable nonprofit community foundation to
hold an endowment fund for the investment of the proceeds of the sale of
Porter Memorial Hospital.
The Council issued
the RFI last month after a joint meeting with the Commissioners on how to
set up an endowment that would provide a higher return on investment of the
Responding were the
Porter County Community Foundation, the Unity Foundation of LaPorte and the
Bison Financial Group of Valparaiso.
disappointment over such a low number of responses and asked McClure if the
deadline could be extended to the next meeting and the RFI be advertised not
just locally but nationally to attract more endowment firms.
McClure said he
would do so as other council members agreed.
In other business,
the Council is looking at ways to control spending by holding department
budgets at their 2013 levels, which was recommended by Conover. The
Council’s budget specialist Vicki Urbanik prepared a detailed document
explaining steps the Council could take.
approved many other requests from departments such as grant funding for the
Children’s Playground at Sunset Hill Farm, use of donations to purchase
stainless steel cages for the County Animal Shelter, and highway funds to
repair snow plows.