Lake County officials crave a piece of new tax windfall

2013-08-27T16:00:00Z 2013-09-30T19:00:14Z Lake County officials crave a piece of new tax windfallBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
August 27, 2013 4:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | It was make-a-wish day at the Lake County Council.

Some 50 local government department heads stood up Tuesday before county government's budget makers and dreamed of raises, bonuses and more money for just about everything in 2014.

The requests add up to tens of millions more dollars than the $109 million the state will allow local government to collect from county property owners this year.

The seven member County Council is required by state law to hold the annual ritual of letting county and township elected officials and department heads publicly disclose spending plans.

A representative for Calumet Township, Jackie Collins, said her office needs more money for supplies, postage and higher telephone and NIPSCO bills.

For Lake County government, Treasurer John Petalas said, "We have a strong need for more part-time employees. I'm asking for a 5 percent raise for the employees, which, of course, is symbolic."

Except for a select few, county employees haven't had across-the-board salary increases in seven years, only higher health insurance premiums, he said. And previous requests for more money were almost universally rejected by officials hamstrung by declining tax revenues.

But the council will have at least $15 million more dollars to distribute next year from the new 1.5 percent tax on the person incomes of county residents and workers.

Dante Rondelli, financial director for the Lake County Council, said he is prepared for major claims on the new money that include $5 million to maintain sanitation and health care improvements in the Lake County Jail as required by the U.S. Department of Justice; $7 million to shore up employee pension and health care benefits; and more than $3 million to maintain the county's bridges and flood-control waterways.

Rondelli said although the state is no longer freezing the total amount of property tax dollars that can be collected in the county, the levy growth next year will be more than offset by erosion of the levy by tax caps, the state-mandated ceiling on what any individual property owner can be charged.

On Sept. 4, the Lake County Council will begin a series of about a dozen workshop sessions with an eye toward a final budget by Sept. 30. That budget may include plans for more borrowing on top of tax revenues, county officials said.

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