CROWN POINT | The Lake County solid waste district should temper spending of new income tax revenues with frugality rather than using it for proposed employee pensions, a district board member says.
County Councilwoman Christine Cid, a member of the Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board, said taxpayers are looking for government entities to tread carefully with revenues from a newly adopted 1.5 percent local option income tax. The new revenue is set to hit local government coffers in 2014.
Cid said some of the $249,000 the district will receive from the income tax in 2014 should go to reducing the amount of money county residents pay into the district's general fund.
"Of course we should make sure all of our programs are whole first," Cid said. "But that doesn't mean we have to spend it all. We shouldn't just spend it because we have it.
"We should look at reducing our general fund levy with some of those dollars."
Controversy erupted earlier this week when a line item in the district's proposed 2014 budget proposed using all next year's new income tax revenue to enroll district employees in the Indiana Public Employees' Retirement Fund, or PERF.
That line item has since been changed from "Retirement/PERF" to "Contingency" at the request of waste district board Chairman David Hamm, who also sits on the Lake County Council.
Waste district Executive Director Jeff Langbehn, who would benefit from such a pension plan, joined other board members Thursday in emphatic promises that no pension proposals or funding mechanisms have been finalized.
Cid said she disagreed with the concept of using $500,000 in income tax revenues over the next two years to enroll district employees in PERF and pay for retroactive years in the plan, so the employees could be vested for their full years of service.
She said district employees already have been offered an IRA-type retirement plan into which the district pays a portion.
"I'm not saying at this point that I'm even OK for them to join PERF," Cid said. "We need to look at things more closely. ...
"I can have more vested years in PERF by buying those years," she said. "Maybe it needs to come out of their own pocket."
Griffith Clerk-Treasurer George Jerome, also a district board member, echoed Cid's sentiments Friday that new income tax revenues could be used to reduce the general fund levy.
"Christine is absolutely correct," Jerome said. "Just because the tax money is going to be there doesn't mean we all have to glom onto it."
Jerome said PERF may be the best pension plan for district employees.
"But I don't think we ought to be buying back years for them," Jerome said.
Langbehn and some board members have argued that district employees deserve PERF enrollment because other county employees use the plan.
But Cid said there was a reason past proposals to provide pensions for waste district employees have been tabled without a vote.
"We've talked about these pensions before, and they have been tabled without action," Cid said. "That should tell you something."
Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, who opposed the local option income tax, also warned waste district board members to be careful with how the money is handled.
He told The Times before Thursday's board meeting that he opposes using the income tax revenues for pensions.
"This is not a good thing in the public's eye," Scheub told district board members Thursday. He told the board the district needed to refocus on encouraging recycling and awarding recycling grants to municipalities.
"This (pension issue) needs to be researched a lot better."