CROWN POINT | The Lake County Council's vote Monday on a 2013 county government budget was more an act of optimism than a hard-headed spending plan.
Council members voted unanimously to approve next year's budget on first reading in six separate votes, but they have yet to confront anticipated tax revenue shortfalls and higher spending demands that could create a $20 million deficit.
The hard work of balancing the budget is likely to take place during workshop sessions scheduled during the next three weeks. A final vote is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 9.
The council already took steps to roll back two dozen county agencies to their 2012 spending levels and eliminate a year-end paycheck for all elected county officials.
Dante Rondelli, financial director for the council, said council members still must confront a $4 million deficit caused by lower tax collections and millions more in what appears to be unavoidable new spending.
That includes hiring an additional 18 jail corrections officers as required by the U.S. Justice Department, negotiating a new labor agreement and potential pay raise for the current 158 jail corrections officers, and covering rising health care bills for all full-time county government employees.
Rondelli said the council has several choices.
"You can cut the hell out of the place. You give me your priority (government services) and everybody else gets cut. I don't see how you can cut your way out of this.
"You can go down the revenue path, too," Rondelli said.
That is a veiled reference to call for the council to adopt a local option income tax on Lake County residents and workers. Council members already have vowed to avoid a new tax.
"There also is the dark cloud of borrowing," Rondelli said.
He said he would discourage short-term loans to solve permanent increases. However, if the council chooses this option, Rondelli is recommending council members charter a professional loan officer who lends money through an established policy that requires immediate payback.