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Lake County Council OKs pay raise for 1 department

Updated: March 19, 2013 6:17AM



A handful of workers on the Lake County government payroll — those in the Planning Department — will see pay increases but the vast majority will not as the debate over requests to boost workers’ pay amid a general fund salary freeze continue to divide the County Council.

Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, is finding cross-party allies in her battle against giving workers raises in departments that are able to find a little extra in their budgets through cost cutting and attrition. Councilmen Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, and Daniel Dernulc, R-Highland, agree with Cid that non-payroll savings should not be used to augment salaries in that department.

However, they disagree with her on another point. Strong and Dernulc both favor rewarding departments that are able to trim employees from their budgets and then distribute the payroll savings among workers for pay raises. They maintain that with fewer employees the county will save on health insurance and Public Employee Retirement Fund costs.

“One way to reduce the council budget is to eliminate brick and mortar and jobs. If more department heads did that we might not be in the position we are in,” Strong said.

Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, said the council needs to come up with a position on pay raises and end the controversy. She agrees with Cid it is unfair that some employees will get salary increases while others will not.

Cid said if the county were to return all the small savings each department comes up with to the general fund it might be possible to pool that savings and provide raises to all of the county’s more than 1,600 workers. Cid is an employee in the county treasurer’s office.

Councilman Jerome Prince, D-Gary, said when he first was elected he absolutely opposed pay raises from outside the general fund, but has changed his mind since the frozen tax levy and tight budgets prevent officials from compensating employees for the increased workloads they have been asked to undertake since more than 300 employees have been removed from the payroll in the last five years.

The County Council last week approved in a 6-1 vote to raise salaries in the Planning Department after director Ned Kovachevich eliminated a position. The cost savings will be divided among those workers.

A request by Surveyor George Van Til to use money from stormwater separation fees to provide a $2,101 pay raise to his chief deputy to bring the salary back to what is was in 2012 was defeated 4-3 by Cid, Franklin, Dernulc and Strong.

A request by the Circuit Court clerk to distribute more than $20,000 in non-payroll funds to department employees was withdrawn.



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