Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Porter County ends budget process with surplus

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The Porter County Council stayed within its spending limits for next year’s budget, staying afloat with $379,718 of general fund money left in its pockets.

The council, which is the county’s fiscal board, completed second readings for all budgets Thursday after starting the process a little more than a month ago.

Council president Dan Whitten, D-at large, said with the budgets running in the black, the county’s tax rates will remain low now the council has decided not to spend more than the state had allowed.

Whitten said he was proud of the fact the council did not cut any service for next year and that Porter is one of the counties in Indiana that have balanced its funding, unlike neighboring counties Lake and LaPorte.

“That’s good government,” he said.

The budget will now go to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance for their approval.

Raises Approved

A big part of Thursday’s discussions was finding a consensus on what mode of pay increase should be given to the roughly 700 county workers. The council had not approved raises since 2008, but felt this year the workers should be rewarded for tightening their belts during the tough economic times.

At the previous budget session on Monday, the council had the auditors office provide a table of different scenarios regarding pay. One suggestion posed by numerous council members like Rita Stevenson, D-2nd and Sylvia Graham, D-at large, would be to give across-the-board raises at $1,000.

Because the council already granted a few individual raises, questions came up asking if those who already received increases should be included in across the board option.

The council in the process laid down a few ground rules. First of all, with a 6-1 vote, the council ruled that new positions that had been created by next year’s budgets will not receive the increase. Voting no was Stevenson.

The council unanimously approved a motion by council member Robert Poparad, D-1st, that no elected officials would get a raise. Also not receiving the county raise were the county probation officers who already receive raises mandated by the state.

Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, spoke on issuing a percentage raise, providing it could be an “incentive” for employees who have larger salaries to retain their jobs.

After determining there would be some slack in general fund money, the council decided it would give employees a three percent raise and that all salaried employees would get a minimum of $1,250.

The council passed the decision 4-1 with Graham voting against the proposal.

Absent from the vote was Poparad and fellow council member Marylyn Johns, D-4th, who stepped out of the meeting early to participate in a voters forum in Valparaiso.

Graham did however approve of the 2011 salary ordinance as did the rest of the council, 5-0, right after it voted unanimously to approve second reading.

Individual Raise Recipients

Requests from different department heads regarding raises were kept track of by the auditors office and were looked at by the council on case-by-case basis Thursday.

• The council lifted the salary of the county Emergency Management Authority’s administrative worker from $24,393 to $30,516. EMA director Phil Griffith said the employee is instrumental in getting grants for the department. The council approved the salary raise with a 7-0 vote.

• An additional $13,000 for part-time was approved 7-0 to the county sheriff’s office. Porter County Sheriff David Lain asked for the money to hire a new process server in addition to the two he has now working part-time.

Revisiting a topic from last Monday’s meeting, the council did however deny Lain’s request to pay court security officers higher salaries to work in both the courts and the jails. Lain planned to have those officers assist in the jail during times when the courts are not in session.

The motion to deny made by Poparad was approved unanimously. Poparad said he wished to see reports from the consultants the county hired to inspect the sheriff’s funds before considering to approve the matter.

• The council voted a second time on moving up the pay of three counter service workers at the auditors office. County auditor James Kopp said the workers would make substantially less than their counterparts in the treasurer and assessor offices at the level they are now, $25,395, and asked for their pay to match the treasurer’s staff at $28,061.

The council then approved the amount 6-1 with Whitten as the only naysayer.

• Porter County Treasurer Mike Bucko suggested the council allocate $25,000 for part-time pay that would be shared by the treasurer, assessor, and auditor in an “hourly special account” for when employees in one department can find a way to aid another in the tax collection process. He surmised that it would be best to have the money in the county council budget and told the council it is not under any obligation to spend the money nor would the departments need to pay out of their budgets.

The motion at first was denied 2-5, but later in the evening, council member Laura Blaney, D-at large, asked for a revote to place the fund in the council’s budget. This time the council voted 4-1 with Stevenson denying.

• The council approved a salary increase for Porter County Jail Museum direct Kevin Pazour from $27,600 to $31,400. The council originally voted down increasing Pazour’s salary to $35,000 after a few council members expressed the merit of the museum.

“It’s putting the county’s crown jewel back on the map,” said Conover.

The second motion for $31,400 splitting the increase was approved 6-1, Whitten voting no.

Revised Assessor Budget Denied

An attempt by the county assessor employees to rework their approved 2011 budget was defeated by the council.

According to their proposal, the six township employees would be considered first deputies at $32,500. Second deputies would receive $31,000, and third and fourth deputies would be paid around $28,000 to $29,000.

Apart from the county assessor, a chief deputy, and the department heads, the council flattened the remaining deputies at $30,729 at their Sept. 27 second reading, despite contentions made by assessor employees that some have more skills and responsibilities than their peers.

The county hired on six local township assessors after the state decided to eliminate their elected office positions in 2008, keeping their pay at $35,991 until their terms would have expired in 2011.

Although the workers’ proposed budget was still under the amount approved for 2010, the council denied it with a split vote, 3-4. Graham, Whitten and Poparad voted in favor while Stevenson, Conover, Johns, and Blaney voted against.

The council decided on Monday to send a letter to the commissioners asking if they would recognize the township assessors as full time employees.

Another rejection was to the county clerk’s department who asked that an executive deputy be brought up. Even though the clerk’s budget would have come in less than what was approved for 2010, Whitten, Stevenson, Blaney, and Conover stood against it.

In other another assessor matter, the council did some reshuffling in Portage Twp. Assessor Maureen Wendrickx’s budget. The council approved moving Wendrickx’s current second deputy to fourth deputy and moved the 2011 second and third deputy salaries to $28,061. The fourth deputy’s pay was kept at $23,878.

The new figures were approved 5-2 with Whitten and Stevenson rejecting.

Paul Shinn to Chesterton EDC

Upon the final budget meeting, the council held a short regular session for departments requesting fund transfers.

Notable amounts include $5,000 in the voters registration budget which was transferred from Hourly to Overtime in order to cover overtime hours during the Nov. 2 election. The parks department transferred a total of $70,000 in unfilled position money to repair structures at Sunset Hill Farm County Park and for signage and trail marker at six of the seven park properties.

During the meeting, the council unanimously honored a request from Chesterton Town Council president Jeff Trout to appoint Chesterton builder Paul Shinn to the town’s economic development commission.

Also, the council read a resolution to set an amendment in the Porter County Sheriff’s Workers Comp policy by the sheriff’s merit board that would give officers their full pay if they are injured in the line of duty. The resolution passed by a 7-0 vote.






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