By VICKI URBANIK
Reversing two key votes made earlier, Porter County Council members on
Tuesday made a deep cut in a fund for abused and troubled kids, while
deciding that all elected officials, including themselves, will get the same
$750 raise as other county employees.
The council wrapped up more than a month of hearings on the 2008 county
budgets, which resulted in 11 new county positions and a higher bonus for
county employees with at least 30 years of service.
The council began this year’s budget hearings with the goal of trying to keep
all general fund budgets to this year’s levels. When it began Tuesday’s
hearing, the council just about achieved that goal, increasing the general
fund by only $142,000, far below the $900,000 the state would allow. But then
the council approved a few increases, most notably, $339,750 in order to give
employees $750 raises.
Perhaps the most sweeping decision made
Tuesday came late in the budget
session, when council member Jim Burge, R-at large, once again proposed a
deep cut in the Family & Children Fund, which covers the cost of foster care,
institutions and other services for abused, neglected and troubled kids under
the watch of the local office of the Department of Child Services, a state
Two weeks ago, a 4-2 council vote kept the fund intact at a $8.2 million
budget, of which $5.17 million was to come from property taxes. The council
was warned then that if it didn’t approve the budget as submitted, the state
would likely either hold up the 2008 county tax rates or mandate the full
But on final reading
Tuesday, Burge proposed cutting the budget to $5 million,
something that child welfare advocates have said would be devastating. But
this time, the reduced fund was approved 4-3, with Burge, William Carmichael,
R-at large, Robert Poparad, D-1st, and Matt Murphy, R-3rd, voting in favor
and Michael Bucko, D-4th, Rita Stevenson, D-2nd, and Dan Whitten, D-at large,
Burge said that even at the lower amount, the fund will equate to spending
$17,000 for each child considered a ward of the state. Poparad said that the
council’s vote is likely only symbolic, since the state can mandate the full
budget. “It’s a state agency. It should be funded by the state,” he said.
Whitten said he can only hope that the state won’t penalize Porter County by
delaying tax decisions next year, but Poparad, citing the very late tax bills
this year, questioned what else the state could delay beyond what it already
In a 4-2 vote, the council decided that all county employees will get a flat
$750 raise next year, except those few who were granted larger raises.
Earlier, the council decided that elected officials would not get a raise, a
decision that prompted some confusion on Tuesday.
A few council members said they didn’t intend to deny raises to all elected
officials -- only to the council and the commissioners. Others said they felt
the earlier decision meant that no elected official at all would get a raise.
The council clarified the matter Tuesday by deciding that everyone will get a
Burge protested the flat hike, calling it “almost a socialistic approach” as
he questioned why someone would work harder if they know they are getting the
same pay hike as others. He said a percentage raise would be fairer, but that
even better would be a system in which department heads would award raises as
they see fit to the most deserving workers.
Whitten said he fundamentally agrees with Burge, but that employees at the
bottom of the pay scale end up getting a very little increase if the raise is
percentage-based. Carmichael said the county is “nickel and diming” its
employees. “How can you support a family for less than $40,000?” he asked.
The $750 across-the-board raise passed with Bucko, Whitten, Poparad, and
Carmichael voting yes, Burge and Murphy voting no and Stevenson, a county
In other pay matters, the council split 5-2, with Burge and Murphy voting no,
to boost the longevity bonus for employees who have been with county
government for at least 30 years to $2,250 as proposed by Whitten. Currently,
the county’s longevity pay begins at $225 for those with at least three years
of service, and climbs up to a maximum of $1,875 for those with 25 years or
more of service.
The council split 4-2 to grant Porter County Treasurer Jim Murphy a raise for
his chief deputy, from $31,771 to $39,304, while renaming the post “executive
chief deputy.” Murphy said the pay hike would bring the employee in line with
those in other offices. But Stevenson protested that the council shouldn’t
increase budgets beyond what was originally submitted, and that other county
departments would want the same.
“Don’t you think you’re going to make some angry employees?” she said.
With Matt Murphy abstaining since Jim Murphy is his father, the higher pay
was approved with Poparad, Bucko, Burge and Carmichael voting yes and
Stevenson and Whitten voting no.
Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain went to bat for his original request for four
new patrol officers. During an extended discussion, it appeared that the
council was willing to grant one additional officer. But the effort fell
apart after Lain suggested freeing up general fund money for another officer
by paying for a process server out of a new fund that comes from a fee at
A motion by Murphy to approve one patrol officer at first passed 4-3, with
only Bucko, Stevenson, and Poparad voting no. But then questions were raised
about the sheriff sale fund, with some members saying they thought the new
officer would be paid through this fund and others disagreeing.
Poparad then called on the council to “do the big boy thing” by stipulating
that the sheriff sale fund should go into the general fund and then to give
Lain one or two new officers when the new budget year begins in January. A
motion to rescind the earlier vote failed on a 3-4 vote, this time with
Bucko, Whitten and Poparad voting yes. The council voted on essentially the
same motion again, and this time, the motion passed when Stevenson switched
The council reversed a few other earlier budget decisions Tuesday. The
council unanimously approved Coroner Victoria Deppe’s plea for $2,000 for new
body bags, to replace those that fall apart when lifted.
And, in a 5-2 vote, with Poparad and Stevenson voting no, the council
approved an additional $4,336 for the Porter County Extension Service for an
increase in the contract with Purdue University to fund the office.