Intermission declared for Lake budget balancing act

2013-09-11T16:30:00Z 2014-03-12T12:08:04Z Intermission declared for Lake budget balancing actBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
September 11, 2013 4:30 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Lake County government budget-makers are at least $3.5 million away from their goal of a balanced 2014 budget.

Although the 1.5 percent income tax on county residents and workers will give county officials at least $15 million more dollars in revenue next year, council members say this new money should ensure no further borrowing.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said Wednesday they are close to meeting their goals but will need several days of private discussions to make the final numbers add up without punishing cuts to essential government agencies.

The new income tax revenue can't keep pace with millions of dollars in additional spending demands now placed on the seven-member county council.

That includes finding a permanent source of pay for 30 new Lake County Jail corrections officers, keeping up with the rising cost of health insurance and retirement benefits for all 1,695 full-time county employees and maintaining bridges and drainage ditches, among other new add-ons.

Dante Rondelli, council finance manager, said the council is being whipsawed by increasing operational costs and declining user-fee payments and property tax collections. Council members expressed the hope their worries will be over in 2015 when the full revenue impact from the income tax is felt.

Council members voted 6-1 to back-fill the impending deficit with $3.3 million yet unspent from its recent $15 million loan. Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, voted against the measure, saying that money instead should be used to pay down existing debt.

The council retreated from an earlier promise to provide more dependable funding for several county police officers by paying them out of property tax revenues, but are forced to continue relying on fluctuating fees paid the county for towing derelict cars and managing mortgage forfeitures. Dernulc also opposed that move.

Council members further tried to close the total funding gap by reducing overtime pay to county corrections officers by $300,000 and funding $1.8 million in retirement benefits from still uncommitted income tax funds, but they need the approval of the Board of Commissioners for that maneuver.

That would still leave the county $3.5 million short of its goal of spending less than $165 million in county government operations, supplemental school funding and debt service. The council meets again Monday and is scheduled to approve its 2014 budget on first reading Wednesday. Final reading is set for Sept. 30.

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