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County Council: Without tax, Lake will close departments, furlough workers

Bilski

Bilski

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Updated: June 11, 2013 6:16AM



CROWN POINT — Draconian cuts to Lake County government and its services could begin as soon as next week if the Board of Commissioners fails to pass the 1.5 percent income tax Friday, officials said.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, during the County Council work session Thursday, put the brakes on any new appropriations and halted the release of any of the $15 million in borrowed money intended for replacing bridge and drainage budgets zeroed out for 2013, paying for the federally mandated improvements at the jail and other miscellaneous capital project requests until officials learn if they will have a new revenue source to pay for it.

Bilski said he is not fear-mongering, but the reality of what trimming $18 million out of the county’s already tight budget will mean cuts that will impact services, facilities and employees. While criminal justice takes up almost 90 percent of the county’s budget, the majority of the $18 million in cuts will need to come from county administration.

“I’m saying, let’s not give anyone false hope. We have to make some very, very difficult decisions,” Bilski said.

Dante Rondelli, county financial adviser, said even if county officials were to entirely close the administrative offices it would result in somewhere between $9 million and $12 million in cuts, not enough to satisfy the $18 million deficit.

Bilski said officials need to be prepared to take immediate action if the tax is vetoed as expected and stopping any spending is the first step. Next would be a furlough plan that could begin as soon as next week that would involve closing the administrative building and all of its offices one day a week.

He is working with the council’s lawyers and financial consultant to prepare a list of which services the county is mandated by law to provide in the left column and which departments and services can be cut.

“The reality is nothing is sacred on the right side of the paper,” he said.

Cuts to many departments will be so significant they may be forced to close. It is likely officials will be forced to close the parks including the Lake County Fairgrounds. Officials will also need to consider the possibility of selling some of the county’s property assets.

The pinch could be felt as soon as next week as officials are expected to implement an immediate furlough closing the administrative building and all of its offices one day a week.

If the tax is vetoed by commissioners Friday the council will have 60 days to call the veto up for an override.

Bilski said he would not pressure his fellow officials to change their vote on the tax but he is hopeful they are looking closely at how lack of the tax will affect the county and its services.

“I understand campaign promises have been made. Things change,” he said.



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