Lake County budget makers looking for money

2012-08-16T20:45:00Z 2012-08-17T00:56:06Z Lake County budget makers looking for moneyBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
August 16, 2012 8:45 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Members of the Lake County Council will have seven weeks to brainstorm a $15 million solution to a 2013 budget, which promises to be unbalanced by too little revenue and too many spending demands.

Council President Jerome Prince released a schedule of 11 public hearings and meetings beginning late this month and concluding with a final vote Oct. 9. The seven-member fiscal body will spend its time debating spending goals for the coming year.

Some 64 county, township and some fire districts already have forwarded budget requests for the coming year that top $134.6 million, which is $25.6 million more than this year's spending goals.

The council likely will hear out their wish lists during a six-hour public hearing beginning 9 a.m. Aug. 29.

Dante Rondelli, the council's financial director, has advised members to ignore such wish lists, with a few major exceptions, and require most county departments to live on no more than they are spending this year and possibly less.

The county will start next year $5 million in the red because of smaller-than-expected tax collections in recent months.

Council members also must find a permanent source of new revenue to fund $4 million in ramped-up medical and mental health services in the jail and pay the salaries and benefits of 18 more jail corrections officers. The U.S. Department of Justice is demanding the county hire the corrections officers to comply with minimum federal safety and health standards in the lockup.

The county also must shore up its employee health insurance plan, which has been experiencing medical care cost overruns for the more than 1,500 full-time county employees.

The county has hired Cender & Co., of Merrillville, to 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.

Council members have publicly expressed an aversion to enacting a local personal income tax to raise revenues. They fear it wouldn't raise enough money to permanently solve the problem and would be too unfair to working families because business would be exempt from paying it.

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