VALPARAISO | A bipartisan group of Porter County officials pitched a last-minute 2014 budget proposal for employee pay raises of $1,500, while directing $10 million in saved income tax revenue and hospital sale interest money to cover a shortfall this year and balance the books next year.
The proposal, just ahead of Tuesday's final budget hearing, includes $500,000 needed to hire nine new jailers to open the third pod at the jail and $600,000 for employee raises.
County Council President Bob Poparad, D-at large, who helped devise the proposal, said it is based on a bigger plan of placing the hospital sale money into some sort of foundation or trust to generate more interest for the county to use for ongoing costs.
The Board of Commissioners are working on replacing the isolated ditch tax with a storm water fee paid by everyone in the unincorporated areas of the county. This fee will provide money for drainage projects and free up more income tax revenue to be used elsewhere by the county, Poparad said.
Others who worked on the new proposal during a Friday meeting were council members Karen Conover, R-3rd, and Sylvia Graham, D-at large; County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South; and County Auditor Bob Wichlinski.
County Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he opposes the proposal because, while it finally recognizes the financial shortfalls he and others have been warning about, it does nothing to address them on long-term basis and even contributes by proposing new costs.
The proposal spells out the $3 million shortfall in this year's budget and the $7 million needed next year from income tax revenue and hospital interest.
What needs to be done is to flip-flop the distribution of the income tax revenue so the commissioners, not the council, receive the saved revenues for the special projects they handle and the council receives the reoccurring revenue to fund ongoing costs, he said.
County employee rules also need to be rewritten to address the 6 1/2-hour work days, 14 paid holidays for 2014 and vacation benefits that build from 10 days to five weeks a year, Biggs said. Employees receive as much as 10 weeks of paid time off a year, he said.
Conover, who said the proposed pay raises are far from certain, is advocating for ways for increase revenue without implementing a new tax.
This includes the new approaches described by Poparad and a proposal to redirect the portion of the county income that goes toward property tax relief to the general fund instead, she said.