Auditor Bob Wichlinski was one of the department heads to cut his budget by
more than ten percent as requested by the County Council, but was not able
to persuade a majority of the Council to approve of how he altered his
budget for 2015.
his staff by five full-time members in February saying he was
“restructuring” his office which included cross-training and equalizing pay
for deputies at $37,000.
That brought the
Auditor’s budget in the general fund down by $146,000 but it carried with it
a total of $30,000 in salary increases for those remaining employees.
The Council blocked
a request earlier this year to approve the changes for 2014 and told
Wichlinski he could try again at fall budget hearings after the Council
could decide if the restructuring was effective.
A motion to accept
the budget with the raises Thursday was defeated by four “no” votes from
Council members Sylvia Graham, D-at large, Karen Conover, R-3rd, Robert
Poparad, D-at large, and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd. Those voting yes were Jim
Biggs, R-1st, Jim Polarek, R-4th, and President Dan Whitten, D-at large.
A new motion
without the raises passed with only Polarek voting against.
Biggs said he
switched his vote because the Auditor had to have money “in order to
operate.” He told his colleagues he did not think the change in salaries
should be seen as raises as it is Wichlinski’s right to structure his office
the way he sees fit.
“You can’t cut the
budget and staff and call that raises,” he said.
The Council also
split on Wichlinski’s proposed $432,000 amount in the Auditor’s
non-reverting fund which has been collecting its money recovering tax
revenue from property owners with homestead fraud over the past three years.
In the fund,
$200,000 would be budgeted for three consultants, $155,000 for maintenance
agreements on software, and $75,000 for attorneys in the Auditor’s office
and on the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.
Whitten and Poparad questioned if the Auditor should be giving that much to
consultants when the auditor’s office staff has had the power to go after
homestead exemption violators.
“What some of these
consultants are getting in money is heavy, and I’m not saying whether it’s
right or wrong. I’m just not okay with the amount of money they are
getting,” said Whitten.
since he’s been in office, over $1.6 million has been recouped in homestead
violations and $222,460 has been brought in so far this year. He said the
consultants he’s hired “specialize” in going after the violators. Former
County adult probation chief Neil Hannon, who has been paid $160,000 over
two years from the non-reverting fund, has captured $414,000, Wichlinski
Poparad asked what
would happen if all of the homestead violations were reconciled. Wichlinski
said he does not expect that will happen next year considering the frequency
of the violations.
“They happen every
day. It will never completely dry up. There are always people trying to
circumvent the law,” Wichlinski said.
Wichlinski said if
the Council voted to hire employees to do the same work that would mean they
would have to fund those salaries plus a benefits package. They then would
be faced with the decision of keeping those employees on if the homestead
violations do stop, he said. Earlier this year, Wichlinski calculated that
County employees earn at least $29,000 in benefits per year on top of
A motion by Polarek
to approve the fund at $432,000 failed by a 2-5 vote. Voting in favor were
Polarek and Biggs. Against were Poparad, Rivas, Graham, Conover, and
Conover said she
wouldn’t approve because the amount was more than what is in the fund now.
The budget was
approved 4-3 with the current fund balance of $342,000. Voting in favor were
Polarek, Biggs, Graham and Conover. Against were Rivas, Whitten and Poparad.
Poparad said he
dissented because he didn’t think the budget should be approved without set
line items now that the funding will be changed.
In another matter,
the Council decided it will hold second reading for the GIS mapping budget
until after it sees the Plan Commission budget.
Whitten said he
heard the County Commissioners would like to move the GIS system out of the
Auditor’s office and possibly into the Plan Commission budget, but added he
had no opinion on the matter.