Lake Station council passes 2014 budget in boisterous session
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent October 17, 2013 11:40PM
Updated: October 18, 2013 12:37PM
LAKE STATION — A City Council meeting devolved into raucous exchanges between council members and the audience, but the group Thursday passed its $14.2 million 2014 budget on second reading.
The council also may have made strides in improving relations with the Lake Station City Court and Judge Christopher Anderson, but signs remained there is more work to do.
“I’m not complaining,” Anderson said after the vote. “Maybe the council is realizing we have to work together for the good of the community, but we still feel like we’re under attack.”
The council has one more reading to pass a city budget. Out of the $14.2 million total budget, $4,850,542 is earmarked for the general fund, paying for the municipal operations.
The council approved $165,000 for the court’s budget, including boosting Anderson’s staff with a part-time deputy clerk earning $10,000. Two full-time clerks in the courts will make $31,908 and $27,182, while Anderson will get $25,323.
“But we gave (Anderson) everything he asked for,” said Councilman Todd Lara, At-Large, who chaired the meeting.
The council also discussed salary ordinances, including the possibility of picking up city employees’ contributions to state the Public Employees Retirement Fund. The city now pays 9 percent of employee wages as contributions, with workers required to kick in 3 percent.
If there is enough money in the budget, the city might pay the full 12 percent.
Anderson once was a close political ally of Mayor Keith Soderquist and a number of the seven council members, but disputes and the dismissal of Soderquist’s stepdaughter from the court cast a pall over the relationship.
Recently, council members met with Anderson to hammer out budget matters and possibly improve the relationship with the court.
“I think we’ve made some progress with the budget,” Lara said. “I think we actually sat down and legitimately discussed some issues. I think this was a good go.”
The council declined to hear public comments during the meeting. The council voted several months ago to allow public comments on the first meetings each month and treat remaining meetings as work sessions without opening the floor to visitors.
That prompted angry outbursts from the several dozen visitors in the audience before some council members began turning on each other.
“The audience is looking for a battle between the mayor, (Anderson) and the council,” Councilman Rick Long said. “Usually, we get maybe four people in our meetings.”