County council member Jim Biggs and council president Dan Whitten left
Thursday night’s budget meeting feeling as though progress was made.
And it only had a little to do with the actual budgeting portion of the
After completing the hearings for the offices scheduled in the first of four
planning sessions relatively uneventfully, the council spoke briefly with
county auditor Bob Wichlinkski about where it stood with regard to the
Biggs, Whitten and Wichlinksi used that opportunity to make a pitch for the
county developing a comprehensive financial master plan.
Citing the nearly $8 million surplus the county has accumulated and the
large number of big-ticket spending items facing the county in the near
future, the council expressed its desire to formally make a plan on how it
is going to approach these issues.
Whitten said the council has spent enough time being reactionary when
problems arise that need instant attention; it’s time to create a plan to
handle the problems before they become dire.
Biggs referenced the success the city of Valparaiso has had since creating
its master plan saying that there the county should take note of the
positives that has created. He said a prioritized list of major issues the
county must address such as drainage, the 911 system operating at a large
loss, the inadequate animal shelter and an aging infrastructure would help
these problems be addressed efficiently.
“The negative effects that are growing due to the lack of a plan are
obvious,” Biggs said. “All politics aside, Valpo’s master plan shows the
positives that come with a plan. There is no reason the county, which has
far more resources than Valparaiso, can’t do the same thing. But we need a
plan to do that.”
The council has been in preliminary discussions all year about creating a
master plan, but legally the county commissioners must make the decision to
create and implement one. For that reason, the council formally stated they
will address the issue when the commissioners have their budget hearing on
In the meantime, the council unanimously requested that the commissioners
create a rainy day fund for the surplus the county currently holds.
Commissioner president John Evans was unavailable for comment until Sept.
24. Calls this morning to commissioners Nancy Adams and Carole Knoblock were
not returned in time for this story.
Aside from the inefficient use of the funds, council members were concerned
that if the state takes notice of the large amounts of money the county
isn’t spending and doesn’t have earmarked for projects, the county’s tax
levy could be negatively altered. Wichlinksi said is a strong possibility
even though the surplus was created by the county being fiscally
“It kind of falls under the adage that no good deed goes unpunished,”
Biggs, who has been a strong proponent of creating a master plan since
taking office, said the discussions at Thursday’s meeting should finally
force the issue to the forefront.
“It think those five minutes with (auditor) Bob (Wichlinkski) were probably
the smartest and best five minutes I have spent since coming into office,”
Raises on hold
At the onset of Thursday’s meeting, the council decided to hold off on the
discussions of giving raises to county workers until the budget process is
Aside from a few legally required exceptions, no raises for county officials
or workers will be granted until after the fourth budget hearing on Oct. 11.
The council did approve a $2,000 raise for county clerk Karen Martin’s chief
deputy, but that was largely because Martin trimmed other areas of her
budget to come within $47 of 2011’s number to accommodate it.
Biggs said the council wants to make sure it knows where the county stands
financially before promising raises that might not be possible and wouldn’t
want to be forced to rescind a raise that was initially approved.
During the discussion of the county’s health care plan, Whitten formally
requested that Wichlinksi compile a list of actuaries the county could hire
to do an analysis of the current health care plan.
Whitten expressed concerns about the plan and said that an outside,
impartial source could help assess whether changes should be pursued.
The only split budget vote on the night concerned the voter registration
Registration representatives Kathy Kozuszek and Sundae Kubacki asked the
council to change the department’s two part-time positions to full-time.
Kozuszek, who has approached the council with this request for three
straight years, said the workload in the office is more than people realize
and that with a major election coming in 2012, having more full-time
staffers would be beneficial.
The council voted against the change to full-time employees 4-3, but did say
they could revisit the matter at the conclusion of the budget process and
that it would consider increasing the funding for hourly pay and overtime if
necessary. Biggs, Jim Polarek, Jeremy Rivas and Sylvia Graham voted against
the change, while Whitten, Laura Blaney and Karen Conover voted for it.