Lake officials make spend and tax plans

2013-09-05T18:00:00Z 2013-09-06T17:22:50Z Lake officials make spend and tax plansBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
September 05, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Council is prioritizing the possible expenditure of all the local income tax revenue — even before the state begins collecting the funds.

A majority of council members voted Thursday to tentatively earmark more than $17 million to be generated this year from a 1.5 percent personal income tax on county residents and workers. The money faces an array of uses for public safety, bridges, stormwater drainage and health and retirement benefits for county government employees in 2014.

The proposals include $7.1 million to permanently fund 30 corrections officers hired recently and to hire an additional 65 next year. Proposals also include another $900,000 to permanently fund 10 police officers who were supposed to be laid off nearly three years ago but have been paid through user fees generated by police and jail activities.

Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, voted against Thursday's prioritization plan, saying there hasn't been enough preparation for decisions of this magnitude so early in a budgeting process that just got underway this week.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, who requested the early votes, said Thursday's vote wasn't binding on the council, but much of the planned spending is mandated by state law or federal court order.

He said the council staff will crunch the numbers with plenty of time to back track if there is too much spending for too little income tax revenue.

The income tax is expected to produce millions more for local government as well as tax relief for property owners in 2015 — when its full impact will be felt. The state doesn't begin collecting it until Oct. 1.

On Thursday, Lake County Council members also heard Lake County Surveyor George Van Til defend his Geographic Information System, a $5.2 million database, over criticism Thursday that it needs to be accessible to get future funding.

Van Til said 24,000 users have visited the database 75,000 times in the past six months.

And in other business, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich is asking the council to appropriate $300,000 in overtime pay due his staff of corrections officers this year.

Buncich said the overtime work is caused by vacancies in the jail staff, requiring others to work extra shifts to ensure safety among the inmate population.

He said corrections officers also amass overtime completing thousands of hours of training required by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The sheriff also asked for $85,000 overtime for county police and $300,000 more for fuel for police cars.

And Lake County E-911 Executive Director Brian Hitchcock asked the council to create the position of deputy director to be his second in command at a salary of $75,000 per year.

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