Chesterton Tribune

County Council cuts fund for abused kids, approves raises for elected officials

Back to Front Page
 

 

 
 

 

 

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 agency.

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 funding.

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, voting no.

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 has.

Pay Hike

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 raise.

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 employee, abstaining.

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.

Sheriff

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 sheriff’s sales.

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 her vote.

Other Reversals

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.

 

Posted 9/26/2007