Lake County pulls a balanced budget out of its hat

2013-09-16T18:17:00Z 2013-09-30T19:00:14Z Lake County pulls a balanced budget out of its hatBy Bill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
September 16, 2013 6:17 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Council dipped into its health insurance fund Monday to cure a potential $3.5 million budget deficit.

The cash injection tentatively will allow the seven budget makers to vote Wednesday on 2014 that is sort of balanced.

"It's a calculated risk," Dante Rondelli, the council's finance director, said Monday after the council voted 4-1 to cut $3.5 million from the $26 million set aside for health and liability insurance coverage for next year.

Council members said that at the current rate of expenditures, that might leave the county short of insurance cash sometime next fall.

However, they need to conclude a balanced 2014 budget now, and they hope to realize significant cost reductions by going to a competitive bidding process to find a cheaper insurance administrator and cut costs further or come up with added revenue between now and late next year to close the budget gap.

They said they won't borrow further.

The council declined suggestions by Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, to cut $586,000 in potential pay increases for county police or corrections officers, or cut $657,000 in public contributions to county employees' retirement funds.

The budget will require collecting $159 million in property taxes, and nearly $17 million in income tax in addition to millions more in user fees to meet a 2014 payroll of more than 1,660 full-time employees and 500 part-time employees and dozens more consultants, and provide transportation, office supplies, utilities and maintenance of county government departments.

It took the council two weeks to cobble together a spending plan that contains no across-the-board increase for county employees.

The council initially planned to hire 35 new Lake County Jail corrections officers, but backed away from that last week because of its $5 million price tag. They did find a permanent revenue source for 30 corrections officers they hired on borrowed money several months ago.

Sheriff John Buncich said the failure to hire those corrections officers will make it tough for the county to achieve compliance with the U.S. Department of Justice requirements, which will inspect the county lockup next month to review the safety and health care for county jail inmates.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said he hopes new efforts to reduce the jail inmate population will eliminate the need for the additional guards.

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