It’s only January and the County Council is already hearing requests for
That fact did not go unnoticed at Tuesday’s County Council meeting by member
Robert Poparad, D-at large, who questioned why the requests were coming up
now instead of during the fall’s Council budget hearings.
But a few of the requests had already been approved by the Council sometime
in 2012 like the $28,222 requested by the Portage Township Assessor’s office
for salary appropriations. Assessor Millie Arocho approached the Council
again with the same requests because those were not reinstated for her 2013
A year ago in February, the Council voted 6-1 to approve new job
descriptions and salary figures for the five deputies and chief deputy in
Arocho’s office while she was given a per diem rate out of the County’s
reassessment budget instead of the general fund adding few hundred dollars
to her current salary of $36,991.
Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large said according to the council’s
vote for the appropriations, Arocho’s chief deputy makes a higher salary
than her own at $38,500. Graham said she would like to see that be
Other Council members looked upon the requests favorably to match that of
the salaries in the County Assessor office.
“I think we should give a regular salary that fits (Arocho’s) position,”
said County Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st.
Biggs was also a proponent Tuesday of seeing County Coroner Chuck Harris’
salary raised. According to salary figures from the County Auditor, Harris
is the lowest paid elected department head at less than $30,000 while
generally others in the County make around $50,000.
As the Council liaison to the Coroner’s office, Biggs said Harris’
predecessor Vicki Deppe gave up the coroner’s position to take a nursing
position because she could not get by with the salary as low as it was.
But reactions were mixed on the Council, with Poparad’s inquiry as to why
the Council would consider a $20,000 raise outside of budget hearings.
Council member Dan Whitten, D-at large, said discussing the possibility of
giving raises to individual employees could “open the floodgates” and, if
that is the topic, then the Council should consider raises for all County
Whitten along with Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, and then Council
at-large member Laura Blaney had pushed for a modest $500 across-the-board
raise for employees during a contentious 11th hour at last fall’s hearings
for the 2013 budget. Those for a budget without the raises included Biggs,
Graham and Council members Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd.
The Council ended up tabling Tuesday’s raise requests 7-0 after Rivas, who
is now president of the Council, said he would like to hold discussions and
revisit the matter at the February Council meeting.
County’s initial 2013 budget
Meanwhile, Whitten questioned whether the Indiana Department of Local
Government Finance had rejected the 2013 County budget submitted by the
Council and the auditor’s office due to assertions that it was underfunded.
In the absence of County Auditor Robert Wichlinski, financial advisor Jim
Bennett confirmed the state did not accept the budget on its first
submission because it did not show a cash balance in the state’s Gateway
system. Bennett said he has been in contact with the DLGF’s financial
hearing officer and determined the Gateway system did not have an up-to-date
figure on the cash reserve amounts that would put the budget in the black.
Bennett said the auditor’s office has resubmitted the figures and is
confident the state will accept the budget within the next ten days.
“Every budget will be approved, I hope this week,” said Bennett who advised
he would supply the Council members with copies of the budget.
Poparad questioned why the matter had not been brought to the Council for
discussion and if the auditor had made any cuts, since it is only the
Council that has that power.
Bennett said the auditor did not make any reductions and the reserve money
was part of the approved budget but the Gateway’s most recent figure for the
cash reserves had not been updated since July.
The discussion led to how the Council will tackle issues in the 2014 budget
since the county’s overall assessed value is expected to decrease as a
result of the tax caps.
Biggs said he and other members of the Council have had discussions with
County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, on using $2.5 million of
miscellaneous revenue in the Commissioners’ budget to cover a few areas
where there are shortfalls.
He added that the next 36 months will be challenging because the Council
needs to determine what to do about the $2 million gap in E-911 and the $1.7
million needed to open the jail’s third pod, but is optimistic now that
communication is happening.
“That’s being improved upon and that’s great,” Biggs said.
After hearing that the County has sufficient funds to make it through the
year from county economic development income tax funds and other places,
Poparad advocated for optimism.
“Maybe instead of saying the sky is falling, maybe the glass is half full,”
Also on Tuesday, the Council gave a 7-0 nod to Sheriff David Lain’s request
to hire a new director of nursing at the county jail as recommended by the
National Institute of Corrections.
The hire will be a county employee who will oversee the other nurses brought
in by whichever provider the County chooses for its health treatment and
care at the jail. Lain said he will have a recommendation ready at the Feb.
19 County Commissioner meeting.
The position holder will receive a salary of $71,500 per year and about
$28,000 in benefits.
Meanwhile, Council Attorney Scott McClure said the Council should be made
aware of the possible “sweeping changes” that Indiana House Bill 1006 could
bring in regards to Indiana’s criminal codes which have not been rewritten
in about 35 years.
The bill includes changes to sentencing and, among other things, community