Porter County auditor eyes staff changes after cuts
BY Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent May 27, 2014 9:50AM
Updated: June 29, 2014 6:10AM
VALPARAISO — For the third time in recent months, Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski will approach the County Council about staff changes in his office, after he let five people go almost four months ago.
In February and again in April, the council rejected his request to increase pay for his remaining employees with a 5-2 vote, but Wichlinski has changed his method, which could lead to the council’s approval Wednesday.
Rather than shooting for pay parity for his employees, Wichlinski is leaving his pay structure in place and lopping off the five lowest-paid positions. His remaining 14 employees are being moved around to fill the posts left vacant after the cuts.
Wichlinski also is asking the council to approve a $102,654 reduction in his budget from the staff cuts, money that will be returned to the general fund.
“All I wanted to do is make sure the council knows what’s now available,” he said. “It wasn’t the way I wanted to do it, because I wanted parity, and now I don’t have parity.”
He is unsure whether he will try during fall budget hearings to equalize the pay for his staff for 2015 but expects the council will approve what he’s proposing now.
“I wanted it to be clear, we are not replacing these people. Those positions will not be in a future budget,” Wichlinski said.
Wichlinski told the council in February the cuts would realize projected savings of just over $250,000, and said in April the cuts had already saved $178,000, including savings from salaries and benefits. The money being returned to the general fund from staff cuts is for salaries only.
Because of accrued vacation time and other benefits, some former employees were on the payroll through earlier this month.
“From my standpoint, I just wanted those people to be paid out,” said Council Vice President Karen Conover, R-3rd, one of the council members who voted against Wichlinski’s requests.
Because Wichlinksi is not changing his salary structure, but eliminating the lowest-paid positions, the council has no choice but to approve his request this time around, she said.
“We can’t do anything about this. He’s done it within the realm of the law,” she said.
While Council President Dan Whitten, D-At Large, has asked departments to cut spending, some council members have said they didn’t intend for employees to lose their jobs.
Council members who voted against the salary increases also have questioned Wichlinski about spending $180,000 a year out of the auditor’s nonreverting fund for two consultants, work they said could be done by his staff.
But Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, said the county can’t reach the budget reductions it needs “with pencils and paper,” especially when personnel is such a large percentage of the county’s general fund.
At the same time, Biggs, who has supported Wichlinski’s efforts to get raises for his remaining employees, said any department head who cuts staff also has to have the ability to increase compensation for remaining employees, as long as those increases don’t eat away at the savings.
“We have to hold something out to them as a way of saying, this will work if you’re willing to do it,” he said, adding the council should set a limit on what percent of any savings from cuts can go back to remaining staff.