Porter County auditor grilled about staff restructuring
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent February 27, 2014 9:22PM
Updated: April 1, 2014 10:35AM
VALPARAISO — Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski faced pointed questions from the County Council about his reduced and restructured staff Thursday, including whether the remaining employees could handle the workload.
In the end, the council rejected 5-2 his request for a new pay structure for his cross-training staff, which would have raised the lowest salaries in the office from $31,000 to $37,000.
They told him to come back in a few months, when everyone can get a better sense of whether the plan is working, and when benefits for some of the five employees who lost their jobs are closer to running out; some of those payments extend through June. Two of those former employees attended the meeting with family.
“We’re giving raises in anticipation. Let’s give raises after the cross-training,” said Councilman Bob Poparad, D-At-Large. “Let’s sprinkle the money around after we find out it works.”
Wichlinski told the council that more is being expected of the 14 remaining employees, which is why he wants to increase their salaries. He also wants pay equity between people handling the same job duties.
“What you certainly invite is a morale problem, and I’m trying to circumvent that,” he said.
Overall, much of the council applauded the cuts, which, with salaries and other benefits, Wichlinski said will save just over $250,000. Wichlinski has said the restructuring was part of his Total Quality Management plan for more efficient government.
At the same time, council members were concerned his staff will be stretched too thin — he said some employees are coming in on Saturdays to handle a backlog — and wondered why Wichlinski didn’t make the cuts at budget time, which he said he wasn’t prepared to do then.
He also plans to approach the county Board of Commissioners about changing the office’s workday to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and cutting 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon.
Council President Dan Whitten, D-At-Large, said he’s been questioned “ad nauseam” about the council’s position on the restructuring.
“Candidly, that’s not within our job description here. We don’t get into particular departments’ day-to-day,” he said. “They rise and fall on their decisions there.”
While Whitten noted the hefty reduction in Wichlinski’s office, he was concerned about the former employees still on the payroll as their benefits wind down, as well as whether there are enough employees around to meet the office’s needs.
“Will that office be able to maintain itself with a reduction in staff?” he said.
Wichlinski’s answer was yes. With additional training, the number of employees involved in a transaction will drop drastically from the five or six it’s been in the past.
“Now, it’ll be one-stop shopping. Everyone will be cross-trained between finance and real estate,” he said. “This is the epitome of what we’ve been working towards.”