Lake County officials hope to tow cop pay raises through bureaucratic drift

2014-01-09T19:45:00Z 2014-01-09T20:45:51Z Lake County officials hope to tow cop pay raises through bureaucratic driftBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
January 09, 2014 7:45 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Lake County Council members want to approve pay raises for county police and corrections officers if state accountants will let them.

Council members are scheduled to vote as early as Tuesday's regular meeting on revisions to the county government salary structure that will give 2 percent raises to 196 guards working in the Lake County Jail and 3 percent raises to more than 130 county police officers.

Council members signed off late last year on new labor contracts granting the raises, but they were told by their finance director, Dante Rondelli, on Thursday that the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance likely will reject the cumulative $582,000 salary bump.

Rondelli said the problem is tied up in a new quirk of state accounting procedures requiring the county to set aside three years of property tax cap savings over a two-year period.

He said the state began the requirement last year to ensure county property owners get all the tax savings they deserve from the the circuit-breaker system, which limits the amount of taxes government can charge to any one real estate parcel.

Rondelli said this new state measure could have punched a $10 million to $12 million hole in the county's 2014 budget, but it is unnecessary because the county already was setting aside plenty of money for tax cap credits.

Even though the state will reject the pay raises because of the theoretical shortfall in tax revenues, the money for the raises exists and will be paid by another, more complicated, accounting measure Rondelli is confident the state will approve later, he said.

Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, said he would prefer to delay the salary increases until council members can be sure the state will give a green light to the raises.

Sheriff John Buncich defended the raises, saying county officials agreed to them and must now deliver. Council Democrats said they prefer to act now and take alternative measures if the state balks. The sheriff and all but one council member are candidates for re-election this year.

Daniel Murchek, assistant county police chief and president of Lake County Police Association Local 72, said Thursday he is confident the county will honor its commitments to his officers, whom he said remain the lowest-paid police officers in Lake County. He said other communities are giving their forces salary increases of up to 6 percent.

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