Chesterton Tribune

 

 

County begins to hire jailers with split 5-2 vote

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Council voted 5-2 in favor of Sheriff David Lain’s requests Tuesday to increase the number of jail officers at the county jail, where conditions have prompted complaints from the National Institute of Corrections and, more recently, the American Civil Liberties Union that the jail is “overcrowded.”

Lain said his department needs a total of eleven new jail officers in order to adequately staff the facility, bringing it in line with standards of state law. The new jailers will staff PCJ’s B-Pod which has remained unopened while the other two pods have been in operation.

Lain’s request Tuesday was not for the whole package but specifically to obtain two officers who could attend to inmate’s medical needs. The jail went live with round-the-clock medical staffing in July with Correctional Care Solutions for a contracted amount of over $1 million per year.

The department is in “good shape,’ Lain said, keeping up with payments related to the contract which has been signed off on by the County Board of Commissioners.

The Council’s discussion revolved around what would be the best approach for making the hires.

Council member Dan Whitten, D-At Large, said he felt a joint conversation with the Commissioners is needed to see how the request fits into the bigger picture of the County’s other “big ticket” items such as the Raise the Barn project at Sunset Hill Farm, finding additional funding sources for Enhanced 911 and ongoing drainage projects throughout the county

“We always have these things in part and parcel. We don’t have a global conversation with the Commissioners,” he said. “All these things are just ticking away at our money.”

Council president Bob Poparad, D-At Large, said he would schedule a joint meeting with the Commissioners to work on a plan to hire the additional jailers before the 2014 budget hearings get underway on Sept. 11.

Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, made a motion to table the requests, but Lain said there is an urgency to having the two new jail officers. The shortage recently led to a situation where a low-charge inmate had to be left in the custody of the staff at the emergency room and the police were not notified when he was released.

“What is more disturbing is we don’t have the staff that we need,” said Lain.

The motion to table was shot down 3-4 with Council members Jim Biggs, R-1st, Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, casting votes against it while Whitten, Conover and Poparad voted in favor.

Whitten did vote in favor of a subsequent motion to approve Lain’s request along with Biggs, Polarek, Rivas, and Graham which passed 5-2. Dissenting were Poparad and Conover.

For the two jailers, who will be new hires, an additional of $22,408 to the jail general budget was appropriated to cover salaries through the end of the year.

All seven Council members voted yea to another part of Lain’s request which led to a third jailer by taking an existing sergeant position and changing it to a jailer role. The measure involved transferring pay from within the jail’s general budget to the Sheriff’s general budget with an additional of $12,887 to cover the salary for the rest of the year.

The request for the nine additional jail officers will come on Sept. 12 when the Sheriff’s Dept. budget is scheduled to have its second reading on the budget hearing schedule.

Denials

The Council split to reject a request for $76,762 to be given to emergency medical services for the purchase of cots and fasteners for ambulances, having learned from the attorney that the County does not own the ambulances.

The matter had been tabled last month when the Council asked if the County was the rightful owner of the ambulances. They learned Tuesday that the ambulances are owned by Porter Regional Hospital with which the County has a contract for EMS services.

Poparad said the County established an ordinance in 2001 that stated the County agrees to purchase equipment. However, Biggs said the ordinance should be looked at again as the ordinance was enacted before the county hospital was sold into private hands, adding it was no longer the County’s duty to make such purchases.

The vote ended up at 3-4 with Graham, Conover and Poparad approving while, Biggs, Polarek, Rivas, and Whitten made up the majority to deny.

On a related note, Polarek later asked the Council’s attorney Scott McClure if he has been able to determine when the ten-year abatement for Porter Hospital was to begin which was first asked by Council members in June. McClure said he is still working on an answer, but advised the Council to speak with the County Assessor.

Meanwhile, the County Council also rejected a request from IT Director Sharon Lippens for an additional $10,000 for maintenance agreements to keep IT operations running smoothly between County departments.

Whitten was one of the Council members who argued there needs to be more cooperation among department heads to avoid these situations. He said he does not want to give out any more money until all officials are on “the same page of music” regarding getting a handle on the county’s financial crunch.

“What’s going on? Where is everybody? Where are they? We need to get everyone together and get them on board,” he said. “We’re going to have a pressing budget session and its going to be rough.”

Polarek suggested Lippens go to the Board of Commissioners to see if they would be willing to fork over the $10,000.

Other approvals

The Council again split 6-1 in favor of County Auditor Bob Wichlinski’s request for $165,000 out of the auditor’s non-reverting fund for the next phase of the document scanning project that had been set up by the Total Quality Management team.

The fund had been reduced to $0 by a majority of Council members earlier in the year, which obligates Wichlinski to get the Council’s approval before spending any further money on TQM initiatives.

The money in the fund comes from recoups of tax money from homestead credit violations throughout the county.

This next phase will include scanning documents in the assessor’s office to assist in cracking down on homestead violations, Wichlinski said. Scanning has been done in other departments, more recently the County Clerk’s office and the health department.

Also, the Council voted 7-0 in favor of the County Parks request to transfer a total of $3,500 for additional cleanup costs.

 

 

 

Posted 8/28/2013