HAMMOND | Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. increased the salary of the Hammond corporation counsel by executive order, according to an explanation he offered City Council members Monday.
McDermott spoke to council members prior to their meeting following a weekend hearing where City Councilman Bob Markovich, D-at large, took issue with the $99,693 budgeted for the position in 2014.
McDermott said state law allows him to make pay raises during the year as long as it doesn't increase the budget's bottom line.
The increase was made when Kris Kantar, who had worked as city attorney, became corporation counsel over the summer. Kantar taking on the new role means the city attorney position will remain unfilled, a move McDermott estimated would save the city $30,000.
McDermott said when he took office in 2004, the law department had three attorneys, and with the consolidation, the department is down to one.
The otherwise procedural budget hearing became heated on Saturday when Markovich argued the position of corporation counsel should remain at the $59,040 budgeted for this year.
“If (Markovich) should be focusing his anger at anybody, it should be me,” McDermott said. “She is worth every penny, by the way. I think we have the best city attorney in the state.”
City Controller Bobby Lendi said the move had precedence, explaining the council's secretary also received a bump in pay by executive order when the City Council office went down to one employee.
Markovich said he didn't know the raise in the council office had taken place.
“I mean we are the City Council,” Markovich said. “We set the budget. We set the salaries, and if somebody's salary should be increased, we should know about it because it affects the budget.”
The City Council is anticipated to pass the $131 million spending plan for 2014 on Oct. 28.
Speaking on the budget, McDermott said he's “uncomfortable” the city will rely on $9 million to $10 million in casino revenue in 2014 to make up for the shortfall in the general fund.
McDermott said the consolidation of the public works department and its $1 million in anticipated savings is leading the way in terms of cutting the city needs to do.
“In my opinion, if Horseshoe burns down, we got major problems as a city,” McDermott said, “and that's what makes me nervous. I don’t like being reliant on that. I want to get off of it.”