Tuesday the new
Republican majority on the Porter County Council approved nearly $40,000 for
the County Prosecutor’s office for raises for three senior felony court
After an hour
discussion on whether to act outside the annual county budget process, the
Council voted 4-2 on a motion by member Karen Conover, R-3rd, to give a
$11,818 raise to deputy Cheryl Polarek, a $11,654 raise to deputy Mike
Drenth and a $11,666 raise to deputy Tammy Gregg.
Beginning April 1,
Polarek’s salary will be $85,912, Drenth’s will be $84,926 and Gregg’s will
be $69,996. The increases will be drawn from the Prosecutor Deferral Fund,
which currently has a balance of $166,000, and not the tax levy supported
general fund, although the latter makes up a portion of the deputies’
Making the request,
Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said the three deputies work on major
felony cases which have been seen frequently over the past year and a half,
including four murder trials.
“It requires a lot
of experience and a lot of overtime,” Gensel said. “The real complex cases
where the defendants are dangerous to our community, you need qualified and
experienced people to be handling those.”
Gensel said last
year he was told by a few Council members that some raises would be
considered for the prosecutor’s office, like the officers in the Sheriff’s
Department which made its case at the fall budget hearings to make salaries
comparable to what municipalities are paying their police. He said
prosecutors are part of law enforcement, too.
“The buck really
does stop with us,” he said.
Gensel’s chief deputy, provided the Council with information on what
prosecutor salaries are in other counties in the state similar in size to
Porter. Tippecanoe County has a lower salary average than Porter’s, but they
have more deputies. Elkhart County, with a somewhat larger population, has a
significantly higher salary for their top deputy, over $100,000, Frost said.
Gensel said he
understands the Council’s preference to address salaries in the fall but
given the disparities with salaries in other counties, it’s “important
enough” to make this “unusual” request. A positive vote would “go a long way
in showing appreciation” for the prosecutors who give service to Porter
County when they could be making more money elsewhere, he said.
“I think it’s the
right thing to do at this time. These are valuable people,” Gensel said.
Council member Andy
Bozak, R-1st, asked if Gensel planned on using discretionary money to
supplement current salaries. Gensel said he anticipates discussing ahead of
budget hearings on the funding structure for the long term. He has had to
use the discretionary funds to supplement salaries to keep staff but those
accounts have been strained too.
The deferral fund
was originally designed for capital improvements like new computers or
special initiatives in the community, Gensel said.
Conover said Gensel
has helped the County through hard times over the years by freeing up some
of the general fund by using discretionary money and “has been a good
steward that way.”
Tuesday, Council members Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Sylvia Graham, D-at large,
both said they do not think now is the time to give pay raises and feel it
will spur more requests from other departments.
Graham said it
bothered her that the boosted salaries would need to be absorbed in the
budget next year but the County does not know what is levy will be for 2018.
Rivas said he
wished Gensel had spoken up last fall so raises could be addressed for the
entire staff. Gensel said it was not communicated to him to “make a wish
“There’s a reason
why this should be done during the budget process because we are budgeting
against the money we are getting for the following year,” Rivas said, adding
that the County has had to draw money from interest made off the hospital
sale principal to sustain operations.
Conover agreed that
she would rather have done this at budget hearings as “there are so many
unknown variables with this.”
Mike Jessen, R-4th, said he also appreciates the commitments Gensel has made
to put less burden on the general fund but feels not addressing raises will
delay a “long overdue problem” even further. He would like to see a
comprehensive report of what value each employee in County Government brings
to the table and have discussions on how to reward that.
Council member Jeff
Larson, R-at large, who acts as the Council’s liaison to the Prosecutor’s
Office, said if someone does a great job, they should be rewarded for it. He
criticized his peers for not taking the time to address salaries adequately.
“Shame on us as a
Council for not addressing those wage increases. We still have to address
it, whether its budget time or not,’ said Larson, who was elected to his
first term in November.
Rivas motioned to
table the matter, saying he didn’t want to have to vote no on a salary
request since he sees value in every employee. The motion was defeated 4-2
with Rivas and Graham voting to table. Absent from the meeting was Council
member Dan Whitten, D-at large.
Next, Conover made
a motion for increases, but reduced Polarek’s and Drenth’s increase by
$3,000 from what was asked for. She left Gregg’s increase the same because
“she is so far behind the other two.”
Conover said she
hates to hear of Porter County having lower-paid prosecutors.
“I don’t like that.
It doesn’t make me feel good. It doesn’t make me feel good for our
constituents,” she said.
prevailed with supporting votes from Larson, Bozak and Jessen. Voting
against were Graham and Rivas.
The full Council
however voted 6-0 on other salary requests the prosecutor presented,
including a $2,000 reduction in the deferral fund for one court deputy and a
$450 increase for another deputy. Also approved was a $2,500 raise for a
domestic violence prosecutor in the pre-trial diversion fund, which is a
At the conclusion,
Jessen said all departments looking for an increase or decrease should be
sure to bring it up at budget hearings and “we will handle it
Jessen said he has
a set time where he will be in the County Council office, Tuesday mornings
from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., where County employees or the public can come talk
to him and encouraged his peers to have a regular time they can be
Jessen also asked
that departments get their funding requests in by the first Friday of the
month from now on so Council members can have time to ask questions.
In other business,
the Council reappointed Michael Livovich to another term on the Westchester
Public Library Board of Trustees.