M'ville police, fire chiefs at odds over tax money

2013-11-16T23:41:00Z 2013-11-17T19:05:12Z M'ville police, fire chiefs at odds over tax moneyChas Reilly chas.reilly@nwi.com, (219) 662-5324 nwitimes.com
November 16, 2013 11:41 pm  • 

MERRILLVILLE | There are differing views on how Merrillville should distribute its share of county income tax funding designated for public safety purposes.

The 1.5 percent income tax, which Lake County started collecting in October, is broken down as 1 percent of the tax going toward property tax reductions, 0.25 percent as a public safety tax and 0.25 percent in an economic development tax.

Merrillville Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey said Merrillville is not yet aware how much additional funding the town will receive through the income tax. Town officials have estimated the public safety aspect of the tax would generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for Merrillville.

Guernsey, a former Merrillville police officer, thinks all of the public safety funds should go to the Police Department because Merrillville's Fire Department is supported by its own taxing district. That taxing district was created when a fire territory was established in 2011 in Merrillville.

The Merrillville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 168 has asked the Town Council to provide a $10,000 pay increase for each of the town's 50 police officers.

Police said officers haven't had raises in years. Lodge 168 members said Merrillville is among the lowest-paid Police Departments in Lake County and providing raises would help Merrillville retain officers.

The raises also are needed because of increasing living expenses.

The council has made no determinations about the matter. If raises are provided, the new public safety money could be used for that purpose.

Merrillville Fire Chief Ed Yerga said the Police and Fire departments each provide public safety in town, and there should be an equal distribution of the public safety money Merrillville receives.

Yerga believes most communities are handling the situation that way.

"I believe it will be a 50-50 split," he said.

Councilman Ron Widing, chairman of the town's Public Safety Committee, said "the majority, if not all" of the public safety money "should stay with the Police Department because that's where our pay shortage is."

Councilman Tom Goralczyk said any decisions about the distribution of public safety money would have to be made by the entire council.

Goralczyk said the Fire Department being financially supported by its own taxing district makes a "valid point" about the Police Department receiving the public safety funding.

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