Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Porter County Council hears first request for salary hikes of 2013

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

It’s only January and the County Council is already hearing requests for salary increases.

That fact did not go unnoticed at Tuesday’s County Council meeting by member Robert Poparad, D-at large, who questioned why the requests were coming up now instead of during the fall’s Council budget hearings.

But a few of the requests had already been approved by the Council sometime in 2012 like the $28,222 requested by the Portage Township Assessor’s office for salary appropriations. Assessor Millie Arocho approached the Council again with the same requests because those were not reinstated for her 2013 budget.

A year ago in February, the Council voted 6-1 to approve new job descriptions and salary figures for the five deputies and chief deputy in Arocho’s office while she was given a per diem rate out of the County’s reassessment budget instead of the general fund adding few hundred dollars to her current salary of $36,991.

Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large said according to the council’s vote for the appropriations, Arocho’s chief deputy makes a higher salary than her own at $38,500. Graham said she would like to see that be rectified.

Other Council members looked upon the requests favorably to match that of the salaries in the County Assessor office.

“I think we should give a regular salary that fits (Arocho’s) position,” said County Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st.

Biggs was also a proponent Tuesday of seeing County Coroner Chuck Harris’ salary raised. According to salary figures from the County Auditor, Harris is the lowest paid elected department head at less than $30,000 while generally others in the County make around $50,000.

As the Council liaison to the Coroner’s office, Biggs said Harris’ predecessor Vicki Deppe gave up the coroner’s position to take a nursing position because she could not get by with the salary as low as it was.

But reactions were mixed on the Council, with Poparad’s inquiry as to why the Council would consider a $20,000 raise outside of budget hearings.

Council member Dan Whitten, D-at large, said discussing the possibility of giving raises to individual employees could “open the floodgates” and, if that is the topic, then the Council should consider raises for all County employees.

Whitten along with Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, and then Council at-large member Laura Blaney had pushed for a modest $500 across-the-board raise for employees during a contentious 11th hour at last fall’s hearings for the 2013 budget. Those for a budget without the raises included Biggs, Graham and Council members Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd.

The Council ended up tabling Tuesday’s raise requests 7-0 after Rivas, who is now president of the Council, said he would like to hold discussions and revisit the matter at the February Council meeting.

State rejects County’s initial 2013 budget

Meanwhile, Whitten questioned whether the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance had rejected the 2013 County budget submitted by the Council and the auditor’s office due to assertions that it was underfunded.

In the absence of County Auditor Robert Wichlinski, financial advisor Jim Bennett confirmed the state did not accept the budget on its first submission because it did not show a cash balance in the state’s Gateway system. Bennett said he has been in contact with the DLGF’s financial hearing officer and determined the Gateway system did not have an up-to-date figure on the cash reserve amounts that would put the budget in the black.

Bennett said the auditor’s office has resubmitted the figures and is confident the state will accept the budget within the next ten days.

“Every budget will be approved, I hope this week,” said Bennett who advised he would supply the Council members with copies of the budget.

Poparad questioned why the matter had not been brought to the Council for discussion and if the auditor had made any cuts, since it is only the Council that has that power.

Bennett said the auditor did not make any reductions and the reserve money was part of the approved budget but the Gateway’s most recent figure for the cash reserves had not been updated since July.

2014 budget

The discussion led to how the Council will tackle issues in the 2014 budget since the county’s overall assessed value is expected to decrease as a result of the tax caps.

Biggs said he and other members of the Council have had discussions with County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, on using $2.5 million of miscellaneous revenue in the Commissioners’ budget to cover a few areas where there are shortfalls.

He added that the next 36 months will be challenging because the Council needs to determine what to do about the $2 million gap in E-911 and the $1.7 million needed to open the jail’s third pod, but is optimistic now that communication is happening.

“That’s being improved upon and that’s great,” Biggs said.

After hearing that the County has sufficient funds to make it through the year from county economic development income tax funds and other places, Poparad advocated for optimism.

“Maybe instead of saying the sky is falling, maybe the glass is half full,” he said.

Jail nurse

Also on Tuesday, the Council gave a 7-0 nod to Sheriff David Lain’s request to hire a new director of nursing at the county jail as recommended by the National Institute of Corrections.

The hire will be a county employee who will oversee the other nurses brought in by whichever provider the County chooses for its health treatment and care at the jail. Lain said he will have a recommendation ready at the Feb. 19 County Commissioner meeting.

The position holder will receive a salary of $71,500 per year and about $28,000 in benefits.

Meanwhile, Council Attorney Scott McClure said the Council should be made aware of the possible “sweeping changes” that Indiana House Bill 1006 could bring in regards to Indiana’s criminal codes which have not been rewritten in about 35 years.

The bill includes changes to sentencing and, among other things, community correction programs.

 

 

Posted 1/23/2013