CROWN POINT | Lake County commissioners hired a Merrillville financial adviser Wednesday to study how to fill a potential $15 million hole in county government's 2012 and 2013 budget.
Cender & Co. will study whether the county should borrow the money needed through a traditional bond issue or get creative and sell existing county government facilities and properties with an option of leasing them back.
Commissioners voted Wednesday to pay Cender a maximum of $15,000 to prepare the options and present them to county officials in time for official budget deliberations, which begin in a few weeks.
Dante Rondelli, the council's fiscal adviser, said recently this year's budget already is $5 million in the red because of sluggish property tax collections.
Federal demands for more jail spending, including the hiring of 18 more corrections officers, threaten to add another $6 million in costs for which the county has no money.
County Attorney John Dull said Wednesday the total shortfall could rise to $12 million to $15 million when adding the cost of shoring up the health insurance plan for the county's more than 1,500 full-time employees.
The county has had to exhaust its reserve funds to meet rising jail and health insurance costs, and county officials are reluctant to enact a local personal income tax. Commissioners have pledged to veto any new tax. Lake is the only county in the state that hasn't passed a local income tax.
Commissioners also voted Wednesday to give R.A. Oras of Munster an additional $34,676 to restore a 72-foot section of Hart Ditch in Munster by removing a tree growing in the drainage way and extend a system of wire baskets containing rocks to reinforce the ditch's eroded banks to protect nearby homes.
The county surveyor's office said the work is part of an overall $4 million drainage improvement the county and the town of Munster have been financing for the past 13 years.