Government officials pitch budget requests to Lake County Council

2012-08-29T20:00:00Z Government officials pitch budget requests to Lake County CouncilBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
August 29, 2012 8:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Like figures on an ornamental clock, Lake County and township officials entered a Lake County Council room Wednesday, requested more money or at least a little attention and then filed through the exit.

State law requires the council to hold a presentation day for the 64 local government units to justify how they intend to spend their money in 2013.

"The office has been understaffed since 2008," County Assessor Hank Adams said.

He said his office is crucial in establishing the county's assessed value, called AV, for taxing purposes.

"Our AV has been dropping, and that cuts down on the tax money you have. You need to help me find all the AV we can," Adams said.

St. John Township Assessor Melody Kikkert said, "I'm not asking for more employees. I want to get more aggressive on technology."

She said her investigators use iPads in the field to tap into the county surveyor's Geographic Information System to find new construction or confirm established buildings' value for taxing purposes.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said he wants to give his police and corrections officers a 5 percent salary raise and his civilian employees a 3 percent raise.

He said he also wants about $5.5 million additional dollars to improve the jail, including the hiring of 18 additional corrections officers.

Councilman Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said he expects the sheriff to make a "reasonable reduction" on parts of his budget outside the jail. Council members Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, and Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, defended the sheriff's budget.

Buncich said cutting police services to make up for jail increases "would be an injustice."

The sheriff has the advantage of support from the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal officials have cited the jail for substandard sanitation and medical and mental health care services for inmates. The county signed an agreement to improve those conditions to ward off a federal takeover of the lockup.

Buncich said federal authorities originally wanted to boost the corrections staff to 211 from 146, but have agreed to permit the county to do so in increments. The county recently just hired 12 additional corrections officers.

With the presentations done, the council will hold a series of budget workshops beginning Tuesday to fit these requests into the anticipated tax revenue available.

The council expects to face a $20 million deficit because of increased spending on public safety, health care benefits for county government employees and and reduced property tax collections.

Council members say they must resolve this through cost cutting, borrowing to be repaid with a short-term tax increase or a permanent local option income tax.

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