Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County Council adopts 2017 budgets with raises

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

At the climax of this year’s Porter County budgeting sessions, the County Council voted 7-0 to adopt all 2017 budgets, including the General Fund with a price tag of $38,209,524.17, reaching its $38.2 million target.

Before the vote, the council spent an hour or so mulling special raise requests, which included those for the officers of the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, prompting a few emotional statements from council members.

Member Karen Conover, R-3rd, said the officers have done an honorable job serving and protecting the residents of Porter County. “You always have our back and it’s nice to give something back,” she told the roughly two dozen PCSP officers in the audience.

“We stand with you guys,” said Member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, adding that increasing the police salaries was a clear decision. “Anything you need, we try to help.”

Sheriff Dave Reynolds proposed raises at second readings of his department’s budget for himself and 63 officers. Thirty 1st class patrolman salaries will be bumped to $53,751, a raise of $5,750. Ten sergeants will receive $3,000 raises. The chief deputy would see a $7,500 raise, making his salary $70,696.

Reynold’s salary will be adjusted from $139,112 to $143,424.

The purpose is to make salaries more comparable with those of other departments, such as the Valparaiso and Portage PDs, while the PCSP has more square miles to patrol, Reynolds said.

Member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said the council has prioritized its spending and has invested the proceeds from the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital into a charitable endowment foundation which will allow it to support public safety. “You’ve got a tough job and we know that,” he said.

Firing back at criticisms that county officials took too long to decide what to do with the hospital proceeds, President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said officials looked closely at how the county could earn its biggest return on investment. The Foundation has in its second quarter has already reached a four percent return. “We are living in a county of exciting things to come. The sky’s the limit,” Whitten said, saying Porter County is the most solvent in the state.

Reynolds thanked the council for their actions, especially now when police around the country are facing tough times. “Everybody is appreciative of you working together and fixing something that wasn’t equitable. We saw tonight you were trying to be fair.”

Council member Robert Poparad, D-at large, laconically said “thank you” as he motioned to approve the budgets including the raises.

The council on Monday found room in the budget for raises after taking out $1 million for insurance and another $1 million for the Sheriff’s Pension Fund. The council did, however, restore $300,000 of the Sheriff’s Pension in the General Fund and will decide later next year how to fund the rest. The fund was supported this year by special income tax distributions from the state.

County employees, who are not elected officials, will get a $1,500 raise except for those who were granted special raises. Approved Thursday were all the court requests of $4,000 and $5,645 to bring staff up to parity, a $2,000 raise for the office manager and the 4-H operations manager in the Extension Office, and a $2,000 raise for a nurse and assistant director at the Juvenile Services Center.

An $8,000 raise was not given to Facilities Director Matt Stechly since it would have put is pay higher than three new facility employees who were hired at between $52,000 to $60,000. All four will receive the $1,500 raise.

In all, six new positions were created in the General Fund and four were moved into the general fund from other budgets, County Auditor Vicki Urbanik said.

Exempt Employees

Meanwhile, the Council bumped salaries for Opera House Director Scot MacDonald and Museum Director Kevin Pazour, from $42,000 and $41,000 respectively to $48,000, to make them exempt from receiving overtime under the new Federal Labor Standards Act decision to increase the exempt salary threshold to $47,476. The new regulation is to take effect on Dec. 1.

Both directors have usually worked additional hours. MacDonald said his tasks usually amount to 50 or more hours a week.

The council also voted to move the Voters Registration office directors Sundae Schoon and Kathy Kozuszek from $44,326 to $49,000 to make the threshold. The two have taken overtime in the past elections and their total compensation in years past has been over $48,000 at times.

Rivas made the motion, saying “it probably makes sense” keeping the directors exempt. Biggs was somewhat apprehensive saying the council had granted the two significant raises last year when the office restructured working with fewer full-time employees.

Before the votes on raising the salaries above the threshold, Whitten said that many states around the country have motioned for a preliminary injunction to delay the threshold, which had given the council the possibility of holding off to see if that motion would go through.

Tourism Venue Fund

In other business, the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitors Commission Board President Mitch Peters came to talk to the council about the distribution of the $150,000 slated to be given to the four county venues for 2017.

Both he and the council agreed to keep the distribution the same as it was for 2016 with the Expo Center, Memorial Opera House, and the Porter County Museum getting $38,120 and the County Parks Department getting $35,640.

Paving

Thursday’s meeting started with a special regular meeting of the County Council where it approved $1.3 million in special LOIT funds, $1.1 million in Major Moves funds, $1.1 million in rainy day restricted Major Moves funds, and $2.1 million in local road and bridge matching grant fund to maximize local dollars for the State Community Cross grant for road projects.

The County Highway Department will pave over 25 miles in roads this year as the county uses the grant program. Whitten boasted that the county still has Major Moves funds in its coffers for these projects while the other counties have burned through theirs.

“Let’s go! Let’s start paving,” Poparad said.

 

Posted 11/1/2016

 
 
 
 

 

 

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