Lake County Council eyes large deficit for 2013
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent August 29, 2012 6:34PM
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:33PM
Criminal justice in Lake County will take up 100 percent of the revenue from property taxes next year, leaving Lake County Council members looking for places to make cuts.
Consolidation was an on-going theme throughout the day Wednesday as council members went through budget requests department by department in the first of a series of public hearings and workshops on the 2013 budget.
The county is facing a deficit ranging from $14 million to $17 million depending on what officials decide to fund, according to Dante Rondelli, the council’s financial adviser.
A handful of councilmen, spearheaded by councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, are looking for outside help with tackling the county’s budget woes. Dernulc, Michael Repay, D-Hammond, and Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, have started conversations with a local university to create a strategic plan. Council President Jerome Prince, D-Gary, was invited to attend the conversation but was unable.
Dernulc said information on the plan has not been finalized and it has not been brought before the full council yet. Rondelli has been in on the conversations as well, he said.
“Before I put it in front of the council I want to make sure it’s something worthwhile,” Dernulc said, adding he would like to see the council get in a position where it can be proactive instead of reactive to its financial issues.
A large part of the 2013 shortfall stems from the U.S. Department of Justice mandate to shore up the county’s jail system. Sheriff John Buncich said he has negotiated with the DOJ to reduce the 65 new correctional officers it mandated if the county were to hire 18 of them immediately.
Cost for the new correctional officers, repairs to the building, medical services, including mental health care for inmates and clothing allowances among other mandated items, stand to cost the county in excess of $5.5 million.
“I know I’m throwing a lot on the DOJ but that is where it lies,” Buncich said.
Buncich also requested about another $700,000 in increases for the Sheriff’s Department. Like the other departments to come before the council Wednesday, those requests included pay increases for workers of 5 percent for merit employees and 3 percent for civilians.
The court system also unilaterally put in requests for raises for its workers of 5 percent and up to 10 percent as well as requests for additional probation officers and bailiffs among other positions to handle the burgeoning number of court cases.
Councilman Repay said he would like to see the different courts look into the possibility of sharing employees, such as bailiffs, with other divisions or the creation of labor pools.
“This is time for dialogue,” Repay said of his suggestion that many see as a massive undertaking.
The township assessors offices may also be joining forces in light of increases in rents by as much as 10 percent. Councilman Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said if the township assessors offices could not find a way to pay their rent without an increase, it may be time to consolidate the offices at the government center. He said he would also like officials to consider having services such as office cleaning performed by one company instead of a different one for each department.
“We get nickled and dimed pretty hard by these cleaning contracts,” he said.