Lake County Council splits over pay for vacant cop slot
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent July 10, 2012 1:30PM
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media, file
Updated: August 12, 2012 6:27AM
CROWN POINT — The Lake County Council narrowly approved a move to fill a vacant Lake County Sheriff’s Police officer position with money generated by towing fees.
Republican members Dan Dernulc and Rick Niemeyer, and Democrat Michael Repay voted no on the measure.
The original request to fund five vacant positions has been deferred for the last six months, but on Tuesday Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, the head of the sheriff’s committee on the council, asked her colleagues to approve just one of the five positions.
That sparked some discussion among members, all of whom seemed to have some reservations, from the increased exposure on the county’s self-insurance program, to the coming “black cloud” over next year’s budget process, which begins next month.
Council President Jerome Prince, D-Gary, asked Sheriff John Buncich why the single position needed to be approved now, after months of deferrals and budget hearings on the horizon.
“It’s a necessity,” Buncich said. “I feel we have to have additional personnel.”
He went on to say that his office is working closely with the council’s staff to “try to cut every area possible to try to offset the mandates.”
He said the council soon will be receiving a report updating his department’s progress on dealing with a string of deficiencies at the jail. Those were outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice in the wake of a series of lawsuits against the county alleging overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
Buncich said that next month, the department’s attorneys will be going to federal court in Fort Wayne for a status hearing on the case.
“We’re getting very close,” Buncich said. “Our primary objective is to get out from under this thing.”
Repay, who has previously clashed with Buncich at council meetings over spending questioned the why the sheriff was talking about the federal mandates.
“There is no federal requirement for us to do this during shaky financial times,” Repay said. “I don’t think it’s good policy and I don’t think it’s a good idea to do that.”
Councilman Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said that Repay was correct that the federal mandates on the jail are not related to the vacant position, however, the county is under a mandate through its collective bargaining agreement to maintain minimum staffing levels.
“I would hate for us to wind up in an arbitration and spend more money over this,” Bilski said.
Buncich said he would be willing to make additional cuts as necessary.
“If you see there is a shortage, and we have to make the cuts, we’ll make the cuts,” he said.