Chesterton Tribune

 

 

County Council breaks hiring freeze for judge

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A “unique situation” was evidently unique enough for the Porter County Council to go against it current hiring freeze Tuesday as it voted 5-0 Tuesday for Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford’s request to add a full-time second legal assistant to his staff.

Bradford addressed the Council in a letter late last week explaining three of his staff members, with a combined total of 67 years experience, have announced their retirements within the last few weeks. They are leaving in August before changes in Public Employee Retirement Funds take effect on Sept. 1 that would lower their pensions, Bradford said.

The PERF changes have influenced others in Porter County Government to retire, such as County Treasurer Mike Bucko, whose last day is this Friday, and County Highway Superintendent Al Hoagland, who will be leaving on Friday, Aug. 14.

Bradford said his staff retirements also come at a difficult time due to state changes in the criminal code that took effect this year such as new penalty procedures for both high level and low level offenders. The new code guidelines won’t necessarily mean a heavier workload, Bradford told the Chesterton Tribune later, but those replacing the outgoing employees will need to learn the new system and won’t have much opportunity to learn from his current staff.

Bradford said he hopes having an additional position will help avoid errors.

Adding to his argument, Bradford said he has run his office since 1981 with one less staff person than his fellow judges and this will bring him in line with other offices.

The Council in November halted requests for additional personnel across all departments unless the hire was to replace a terminated or retired employee. It since has asked departments to cut their 2015 general fund budgets by 10 percent as revenue losses are causing a shortfall for next year.

Bradford requested an additional appropriation of $11,979 to salaries for the remainder of the year. The new legal assistant would have a yearly salary of $31,145 not including insurance and benefits. He said however that if the Council approves, he would not have to use any more of his funds allocated for part-time workers.

He also said there will be a savings of $6,000 in longevity pay.

Council Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd, said she’d been “struggling with (the request) all weekend” after receiving Bradford’s letter because “it’s against policy.” She however reached the conclusion that not honoring the request could put the court in jeopardy.

“Our courts do not come to us with frivolous requests,” Conover said.

Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, expressed similar concerns.

Bradford’s situation puts him in a bind beyond his control, said Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, who added he “personally did not have a problem voting yes to the matter.

“He really has a very unusual circumstance” Whitten said.

Voting to approve were Whitten, Graham, Conover, and members Robert Poparad, D-at large, and Jim Biggs, R-1st. Absent were Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Jim Polarek, R-4th.

Other department requests approved were an additional of $10,000 to the Public Defender’s Supplemental account needed for legal services; $35,000 to be spent out of the Dunes Kankakee Grant for construction inspection; and $58,700 for the County Parks’ Lake Michigan Coastal Grant Fund to rehabilitate the pond and prairie at Sunset Hill Farm.

In other business, the Council learned from ITS Director Sharon Lippens that it can save $30,000 over the next couple of years through a state law, IC 5-22-17-5, that allows contracts to be canceled when a fiscal body of government makes a written determination that funds are not available. The contractor will be able to repossess the equipment, she said.

Lippens said the current contract with a vendor for equipment in the County’s print shop is $46,000 per year but the funding has fallen short this year because of budget cuts. The contract was last renewed in 2011 and was to continue until 2016, but by enactment of the state law, the County can move forward with a new vendor for $16,000, which is where the savings would come from.

The Council agreed 5-0 in favor of the measure.

 

 

Posted 7/24/2014