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County Council supports USW with resolution calling for fair contract

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By LILY REX

The Porter County Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of the United Steelworkers (USW) at its meeting last night.

Council Vice-president Jeremy Rivas, R-2nd, read the resolution urging U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal to stay at the table with USW and reach a fair agreement. Rivas said a strike could be damaging because “the steel industry is vital to northwest Indiana.”

Rivas noted that the steelworkers didn’t take a raise for three years while the market was in a downturn. “Now as the steel industry is back in an upswing, the price of steel is up, they’re just asking for a little bit back,” he said.

Comp Time

Animal Shelter Director Toni Bianchi came before the Council asking to transfer a total of $13,212.65 from contractual services and vehicle repair and maintenance to pay two employees for comp time owed to them from previous years.

County Attorney Scott McClure said Bianchi inherited the issue of two employees who accrued excessive comp time from the previous shelter director. The comp time owed to the employees is for work done between four and six years ago, he said. Bianchi took over at the shelter four years ago.

McClure said the two employees racked up 390 and 221 hours of comp time. According to Bianchi, the two employees are essential to the shelter, and she can’t give them time off without paying others to replace them, defeating the purpose of saving money from not paying out for comp time. Council member Dan Whitten, D-At-large, said he’s seen worse comp time numbers, but he asked McClure how the comp time was overlooked in the first place.

County Auditor Vicki Urbanik said comp time often went unreported by department heads under the County’s old payroll system. With the new timekeeping policy and system, department heads must sign-off on all vacation or comp time earned. Bianchi said it was Urbanik who notified her of the comp time owed to the two employees, and she is keeping a watchful eye on comp time now to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Council President Andy Bozak, R-1st, said his biggest concern was that other departments will later make the same request. While Whitten said that employees racking up hundreds of hours of comp time is “glaring mismanagement” on the part of department heads, he noted that Bianchi is rectifying the issue. “She’s transferring money internally to fix it, which is what we’ll mandate other departments to do anyway,” Whitten responded. “I don’t know that there’s great answers for it other than to make the department heads find it.”

Whitten and Rivas asked McClure if any other departments have a similar problem. McClure said other departments have racked up hundreds of hours, but none have a situation where the time was accrued and never dealt with years ago.

Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, took a moment to thank Bianchi for her work on the issue. “I just want to say this is not about you,” Conover said.

The Council voted 6-1 to approve Bianchi’s transfers with Bozak dissenting.

Attorney Report

The Council asked Attorney Harold Harper if he has received any contracts following the promise it made in June that it would review all the County’s financial obligations that extend past the end of this year. Harper said he reviewed two long-term leases and hasn’t yet started going through maintenance agreements. He reported that the lease for the Health Department office in Portage and the Soil and Water Conservation District appear to be in order.

Whitten said the Council needs to know if maintenance agreements are going to “eat into the general fund.” Council member Mike Jessen, R-4th, suggested that the IT Department could weigh-in on maintenance agreements for items like copiers and computer systems.

 

Posted 9/25/2018

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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