Chesterton Tribune



Porter County Council debates use of Prosecutor grant funds

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The Porter County Council debated a request to use $40,000 in grant funds to provide raises to four of the six victim advocates at the County Prosecutor’s Office at its meeting Tuesday night.

Porter County Prosecutor Gary Germann has six victim advocates, four of whom are paid solely from a federal domestic violence grant that the County applies for every two years. They’re paid annual salaries of $35,000, and Germann requested an additional appropriation to use the extra $40,000 he was awarded this year to bump each of their salaries up to $45,000.

Council Vice-president Mike Jessen (R-4th) and member Greg Simms (D-3rd) noted the increase is substantial and questioned how the inequity in pay might affect morale for the two victim advocates who are on the County’s payroll. They are paid $37,950 and $36,050, respectively, according to County Auditor Vicki Urbanik.

Germann said he didn’t anticipate an issue. “Lately we have become more of a family, so it’s not one person trying to step over another,” he said. “I’m going to say, knowing those two people as well as I do, that’s going to be their attitude.”

The grant funds cannot be used to boost pay for County employees, Germann said. He added that the grant-funded victim advocates do not benefit from County-wide employee raises.

Germann said he “shot for the moon” by asking for additional money to give raises, and was pleasantly surprised he got it in spite of expectations that grant funding would be scarcer due to impending economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. “They gave us everything we wanted,” he said. “I think some of that was based on looking at the statistics of the number of cases that they handle in relation to the County.”

Council members Sylvia Graham (D-At-Large) and Bob Poparad (D-1st), along with Jessen, said they remained uncomfortable with the pay disparity. Simms sided with Germann, however, after discussion. “As awkward as it seems, it’s your department. You know it better than I do,” Simms said.

Council member Dan Whitten (D-At-Large) was ultimately reluctant to turn down a federal grant and motioned for approval. The raises were approved 5 to 2 with Poparad and Jessen dissenting. Graham noted she voted yes “very reluctantly.”

Capital Projects

The Council also heard an update on capital projects from Scott Cherry of Skillman Corporation. Skillman has been the construction manager on the County’s $30 million Capital Improvement plan since its inception in December 2018.

Then, Cherry said, the focus was on the historic Porter County Courthouse, North County Complex, and the Expo Center. Work was completed as expected at those locations, and additionally at the old jail building at 157 Franklin Street that the County bought back from a private owner in April 2018. The goal was not only to complete improvements, but to emphasize local involvement and transparency. “And that’s what we’ve achieved,” he said.

Cherry reported the County awarded 34 prime contracts over the course of the capital improvements plan, and 33 of those contracts went to companies in Lake and Porter counties. “We used 100 percent union contractors and workers,” he added, and said the projects created between 115 and 135 jobs, some of which were long-term.

All in all, Cherry said the projects came in overbudget by only $9,300, in part due to previously unknown soil issues at the North County Annex site and electrical issues at the Expo Center. “Currently, the only thing left is final touches over at the Annex and at 157 Franklin. We’re very close to occupying that. Furniture’s been ordered,” he said.


Posted 8/26/2020





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