Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

County Council mulls raises as it holds first reading of 2011 budget

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Council started this year’s budget hearings on an upbeat note for county employees during Monday’s first reading, saying they will be looking for possibilities to dish out a few raises.

The council for the last two years has virtually frozen salaries partly due to recession. Adding to the fiscal conservancy, the council earlier this year sent a letter to the county departments asking for them to submit budgets with the same figures approved for 2010.

Council president Dan Whitten, D-at large, said a little more money has come in this year and that raises would be one of his priorities during the budget sessions. He said his reasons for the change in tune this year is to reward the employees who have helped clamp down on the budget and to set salaries that would maintain the highest caliber of employees.

Whitten said the council will need to discuss how it will “prioritize” which departments or employees deserve raises and whether the raises will be by percentage based on employee salaries or a flat increase across the board.

Whitten said he favors percentage raises while fellow council member Rita Stevenson, D-2nd, said she would be in favor of flat raises over percentage, feeling it is not fair to give a larger pay increase to those with heftier salaries.

Fellow council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said the council will have to see how much will be left over for raises by utilizing a “countdown.” The countdown method keeps track of the growth increase in taxes as the council moves the budgets one-by-one and adds up available funds.

Whitten said he is also going to be looking more closely at the funds for the sheriff’s police as one of the other thing to prioritize in the budget hearing sessions. He said the reimbursements for holding state and federal prisoners may be decreasing.

Porter County Auditor James Kopp read aloud the budgeted figures submitted by each department. The grand total for the county’s General Fund -- the fund made up of property tax dollars – is estimated at $40,651,797, up from last year’s approved $32.9 million.

All seven council members cast their votes in approval of the first reading of the 2011 county budget.

Even though Whitten spoke of granting raises, he plans to exercise frugality. “We’re going to keep our belts as tight as we can for the taxpayers,” said Whitten.

A second purpose of the meeting was to give the public a chance to comment on the budgets. Only one individual addressed the council, former Porter County Councilper-son Ruth Ann McWhorter, who asked if the council was this year going to revisit the notion of cutting out venue funding from the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission budget.

Last year the council was asked by the tourism commission to shift the $89,100 in monies for the county Expo Center, the Porter County Parks Department, the Memorial Opera House, and the Porter County Old Jail Museum and have the money be used for the PCCRVC’s grant program and Web site development.

The council threw out the proposal last year and told McWhorter they would not be cutting venue funds this year. “We’re not going to do that,” Whitten said.

The public hearing will be closed for the remainder of the budget work.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday looking at budgets for the health department, the election board, the sheriff’s police, and the County Commissioners.

Further dates include Sept. 27, Sept. 29, Oct. 4, Oct. 7 and a final reading scheduled for Oct. 18.

 

 

 

Posted 9/14/2010

 

 

 

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