Chesterton Tribune


Biggs raps special salary hikes in failed Porter County budget proposal

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Political rivals County Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, and County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, are finding more to quarrel about after Biggs found out there were some “special” employee raises that were considerably more than just the across-the-board $500 proposed for all employees in the budget that Evans developed with a few County Council members.

The failed budget supported by Council members President Dan Whitten, D-at large, Laura Blaney, D-at large, and Karen Conover, R-3rd, came to about $40 million for the County’s General Fund and included a funding cushion of $4 million to open the third pod at the Porter County Jail by using $2.5 million of county income tax dollars (CEDIT) and more than $2 million in budget reductions for other County departments.

Biggs told the Tribune that in that budget, employees in the Commissioners’ office would have seen increases to their salaries. Vi Wagner, legal assistant to the County Attorney, would have seen her salary brought to $42,000 and administrative assistant Melissa Hartig’s would have been increased to $45,000.

The commissioner’s part-time receptionist would have see her pay adjusted to a full-time level in the plan.

Their budget, Biggs said, would have also included a 38 percent pay increase for Porter County Museum of History Executive Director Kevin Pazour, about $45,000, and 30 percent increases for the two directors in the Voters Registration Office, Democrat Kathy Kozuszek and Republican Sundae Schoon.

Evans defended the pay raises saying these were requests that were not approved during 2011’s budget hearing and he felt the dedication these employees displayed should be reflected in their salaries. Evans said he knows other department head’s budgets include salaries for their top staffers that are close to $50,000, not including overtime, and he argued there should be more fairness regarding salaries.

“What’s wrong with paying raises to the people who deserve it?” Evans said.

Pazour’s raise was suggested by the Porter County Historical Society to keep him at the museum, since he has received offers to be paid better doing the same work elsewhere, Evans said. The Historical Society funds the operations of the museum privately after taking over management a couple of years ago, but Pazour is still paid as a county employee.

As for the election workers, Evans said they works long hours creating ballots, answering phones, setting up polling places and holding poll worker classes.

Biggs also questioned fairness, asking why raises were proposed for these departments when the plan did not specifically address the staffing needs at Porter County Jail, a service he said is “invaluable.”

“We should be able to decide what our priorities are,” he said.

Biggs emphasized the County needs a budget to adapt to the state tax caps and the Council should have more control of the CEDIT funds, something that is expected to be discussed at tonight’s County Council meeting.

Biggs said that while the $40 million budget would have increased spending by 9.4 percent over the 2012 budgets or $3.6 billion, the approved $37.9 million budget he approved decreases spending by 1.9 percent or $730,325.

While Evans suggested the $2.5 million for the third pod, Biggs said that money would have been used up if Evans’ proposed raises had been given and the bill for the employee health plan would have been paid.

Rivas and Graham have said they will need to further negotiate on the use of CEDIT funds to provide a permanent funding source for more officers and medical staff at the PCJ, along with health insurance costs.

“It is my hope the Commissioners will share the CEDIT funds. We will have to work together as a unit to solve Porter County’s issues,” said Graham.

Evans rescinded the offer of $2.5 million in CEDIT after his budget proposal was shot down and said at last week’s Commissioners’ meeting that Council members “own the task” of finding funding for additional jail staffing without raising taxes.


Posted 10/23/2012