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County Council praises auditor for layoffs then refuses to allow savings to be used for raises

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

First, Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski received a pat on the back from the County Council Thursday for netting a savings of roughly $250,000 by cutting five employees, then the Council voted 5-2 to deny his request to restructure job titles and salaries.

Wichlinski said he is streamlining his office for efficiency by equalizing workloads as much as possible and cross-training his remaining employees on real estate, finance and payroll.

The request was to set nine deputy auditors’ salaries at $37,000, two other deputies at $40,000, two directors at $43,000, and an executive director at $45,000. That would mean an increase in pay for some from as low as $31,000 a year to $37,000 a year.

The Council has been reluctant to approve raises outside yearly budget hearings.

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, in fact asked Wichlinski why he had not made these requests in the fall budget sessions.

Wichlinski said he was waiting on a number of factors before restructuring, ensuring he had the resources in place to make it a success and also to finish out the rest of 2013. One other thing he mentioned was integrating the changes with the new employee policy currently being worked on by the County Board of Commissioners.

He wants the office to open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. like businesses in the private sector and to end 15 minutes breaks for employees in the morning and afternoon. They will get an hour for lunch but having multiple employees on breaks during different times of the day made it difficult for work to get done if one worker needed the assistance of another, he said.

But Council President Dan Whitten, D-At Large, said ever since Wichlinski made the changes to his office at the start of February, there have been questions raised to him as to whether the office can still function in timely manner.

“Will the office be able to maintain itself with that reduction in staff?” Whitten asked.

Wichlinski’s ultimate answer was yes.

“I wouldn’t put this burden on our workers for the past three or four weeks if I wasn’t confident this will succeed,” he said.

The new management style will create a smoother work flow and deputies will be checking over each other’s work, Wichlinski said. There will be physical changes as well; one section of the office will be set up specifically for payroll and accounting and a vacant spot where the County could put in a human resources person if it wishes, he said.

There will be additional computers available to the public in the office’s GIS department in what Wichlinski calls a “data store.” All matters related to financing and real estate will be handled at the front counter, he added.

Wichlinski said this is part of the initiative he calls Total Quality Management, which he hopes will make office functions easier for whoever his successor may be.

“This is the epitome of what we’ve been working toward,” he said. “It’s literally changed how the office functions.”

Before voting on the request, Whitten asked if the former employees, some of whom were sitting in the audience, were still receiving benefits they’re entitled to. Wichlinski said that their benefits will be phased out, with the last expiring in June.

That caused some Council members to feel they should hold off until the end of year to approve all the changes, to see if the office is on track by that time.

Council member Robert Poparad, D-At Large, pledged he would make the motion when the time came to approve the new job descriptions and salaries retroactive once it can be determined if Wichlinski has lived up to expectations.

“Let’s kick this can down the road and see if this is going to work,” Poparad said.

Wichlinski said he would prefer if the new salaries could be approved now since he felt it would be better for office morale.

“I’m trying to circumvent that,” he said. “We’re going to save money no matter what.”

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said with Wichlinski’s confidence he would vote in favor of the request. He applauded Wichlinski for making a tough call, shrinking his staff at a time when the Council has asked departments to trim their budgets.

“Big boys make big decisions,” Biggs said.

Whitten said he leaves it up to the discretion of the department heads to make reductions in their office as they see fit.

“I don’t want to pick and choose. It’s your baby and we’ll have to make it work,” Whitten said.

Vote

Voting in favor of a motion to approve Wichlinski’s restructuring were Biggs and Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th. Voting to deny were Whitten, Poparad, Rivas, Council Vice-president Karen Conover, R-3rd, and member Sylvia Graham, D-At Large.

Whitten told Wichlinski he could try the request again at the Council’s April meeting once the Council gauges the progress in his office.

 

 

Posted 2/28/2014