Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Porter County Council takes hard line with auditor; parttime workers to get the ax

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Council kept a pretty tight grip on the county’s purse strings at its meeting Tuesday as the stand against pay raises continues. Nobody knows this better than Porter County Auditor James Kopp.

Kopp implored the council to grant his request for an additional $45,000 to retain four part-time workers who assist his office in filing records and data research, paying bills, building TIF layers on the GIS system, and handling homestead verification forms that now have to be processed at the local level.

Kopp also asked for $15,000 in overtime as his staff has spent several hours daily answering telephone calls and e-mails that have been rerouted incorrectly by a phone glitch in the county treasurer’s office. He said he estimates his office handles 300 extra calls per day before going home.

Computer Problems

Also adding to the woes are outages associated with the county’s computer system. Kopp said the office was locked out for several hours earlier on Tuesday. He said the office needs the overtime to run the reports on balance numbers with the treasurer’s office so as to not crash the system.

“It’s either that or we’ll have to shut down the whole county,” he told the council.

Since the tax bills went out in April, the auditor’s office has run up $3,000 in overtime costs and expects the expenses to carry into November when the second tax installment is due.

The council showed little mercy to Kopp’s request for overtime, only approving the $3,000 the office has already racked up. The council voted 4-1 with council president Dan Whitten, D-at large, solely voting no.

Councilpersons Bob Poparad, D-1st, and Laura Blaney, D-at large, were absent from the meeting.

Council member Rita Stevenson, D-2nd, asked Kopp to further inform the council members of any more plans for overtime.

A more severe cut was made to the $45,000 in part-time requests. There the council approved only $2,000 for the part-time staffer who is handling payroll benefits until that person can fill a vacant full-time position starting June 7.

This time the vote was 5-0.

Kopp walked back to his seat telling the council he would have to lay off all of his part-time staff because there is no money to pay them.

“We’re going to be biting the bullet,” said Kopp.

Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, suggested Kopp ask the assessor’s office to assist with the homestead forms, just like last year when the office agreed to assist the auditor in figuring out corrections for the property tax bills.

Whitten criticized Kopp for poorly managing his office and that May is a bad time to ask for money, saying he would be more likely to award his request in November after the budget hearings.

Kopp said he is already understaffed by three or four people and more work is continually being “dumped” on them.

Whitten pointed out other departments have not come to the council asking for overtime despite increases in work.

The council denied the auditor’s office requests for additional salary raises earlier this year.

The board also denied 5-0 Kopp’s request for $30,661 to create a full-time position to assist bookkeeping staff.

The request had been tabled since it was made in February.

Whitten asked Kopp to provide a list of job descriptions for all the employees in his office and also an account of how much overtime pay has been given to each employee over the past two years.

Assessor Given $7,500 to Catch Up On Appeals

The council approved $7,500 in a request for additional funds to be given to the county assessor’s office with a 4-1 vote, half the amount of what county assessor John Scott originally asked for.

The money will go to overtime pay for the staff members who are responsible for the clerical duties in organizing hearings for the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals. Scott said more PTABOA meetings will be taking place to reduce the amount of backlog his office is seeing with appeals going back to 2007.

Scott told the council he would agree to any amount they decide, but believed $15,000 was the figure that was needed. Graham agreed the PTABOA needed to be facilitated but suggested the council start by giving $7,500. Whitten agreed to the motion and asked Scott to return if he needed more funds, confident there was a chance the council would eventually give the full amount.

“We cannot be the cause for the bottleneck on the PTABOA,” said Whitten.

Stevenson, who solely voted against the motion, said she voted against $7,500 because she felt the assessor’s office should be granted its full request.

Scott said larger quantities of appeals have sprouted in recent years after local politicians led the cry for lower property taxes. He said nearly 300 of the 2,053 appeals from 2007 need to be finalized. From 2008, 1,614 still need to be resolved and so far 1,132 appeals from 2009 have been filed.

Scott told the council he did not expect to be caught up by the time he leaves office at the end of this year, but wants his office to be making headway.

“We are not going to finalize because people are always going to appeal,” said Scott. More appeals are expected for the upcoming year as reassessment is expected to start in July, he said.

Scott said he has no problem with hearing appeals and feels the county level is a better place for appeals to be resolved as opposed to being handled at the state level by the Indiana Board of Tax Review, who has the authority to review any case more than 180 days after being filed. Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd said the issue of appeals has been brought to her on several occasions.

“I think they need to be heard. It’s almost an injustice (not to),” said Conover.

In another action, the council appointed Barbara Wyatt as their appointment to the PTABOA board after Barb Wiggins and William LaFever resigned. Wyatt, who submitted her application to the council, is a Level II certified assessor.

Whitten was also appointed as the new council liaison to the PTABOA board on Tuesday.

The county commissioners are to also make a new appointment for their PTABOA representative.

In other matters:

• The council tabled a request for $63,010 made by the Juvenile Probation office to bring in two new probation officers. Whitten said he would rather have the full council present to make the decision.

• The Porter County Extension office was given $2,000 or half its request in a 4-1 vote to pay seasonal staffers who help out with 4-H duties during the Porter County Fair.

• The council unanimously approved the purchase for a new sewer cleaner/vacuum for the highway department. Porter County Highway Superintendent Al Hoagland said the current cleaner is 15 years old and money to purchase the new one for $150,400 is already in place.

 

 

Posted 5/26/2010

 

 

 

 

 

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