Prosecutor Brian Gensel brought on the ire of the County Council at its
meeting Tuesday for requesting raises for some of his staff outside of the
raises for four employees in his office who are paid with grant money rather
than out of the General Fund. According to Gensel, such employees tend to
fall through the cracks when raises are given, and he was recently made
aware that they haven’t seen a raise since 2013. He noted that raises will
be funded with grant money--about $34,000 of which might go to waste if he
doesn’t find ways to use it. Those moneys can be used for training costs,
funding part-time positions, and salaries.
reported that his office has received the grant consistently for years, but
he has the funds to absorb the proposed costs in the event that it is not
awarded during the next cycle.
Sylvia Graham, D-At-large, dissented because the funds being used in this
case are unused funds that had been earmarked for health insurance. “I think
that our medical budget should be protected very carefully,” she said.
Council member Dan
Whitten, D-At-large, asked, “Why didn’t you address this at budget time?” He
then said that the Prosecutor’s Office has a habit of not making specific
across-the-board requests for raises during the budget season and coming
back later to piecemeal those requests. “That’s very disruptive to us,”
Gensel said he
would have addressed the need for raises earlier if he had known about it
earlier, but “It wasn’t on the radar” at budget time, and the grant cycle
doesn’t coincide with the budget cycle for the County. Whitten responded
that the Council still needs him to consider possibilities and share the
“complete package” of expected costs with the Council during budget time.
The Council voted
to approve Gensel’s requests with Graham dissenting and Council
Vice-President Jeremy Rivas, R-2nd, absent.
Old Jail Purchase
In other business,
the Council unanimously approved the purchase of the old jail building at
157 Franklin St. in Valparaiso for the average of two appraisals,
$3,642,500. The old jail will be converted into office space for the County,
including a new space for the 911 Center. Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North,
was present to discuss the project, part of the Commissioners $30 million
capital improvements plan, and noted that another purpose for the move to
the jail is the need for more space in the future.
Biggs, however, was
not able to provide some hard numbers Whitten asked for. “It just seems like
I have a lot of unanswered questions,” Whitten said, wanting to know how
much renovation will be needed on the interior of the jail to make it a
functioning office space, how many departments will move in, and how much
income the property will generate through the rental of a cell phone tower
on the roof and a restaurant space. Biggs said he wasn’t given those numbers
and was unsure when they would be available. Biggs said he would work on
preparing a report detailing the further cost projections.
The Council also
approved a $70,000 transfer for the Election Board. County Clerk Karen
Martin reported that the transfer was a correction to a line item in the
budget for equipment maintenance.
Martin also noted
that the County is down 175 poll workers and always looking for more.