Salary, food costs put sheriff over budget

2009-05-22T00:00:00Z Salary, food costs put sheriff over budgetBob Kasarda, (219) 548-4345

VALPARAISO | Porter County Sheriff David Lain plans to ask the County Council next week for $647,439 more than he was budgeted for the year.

The money, which he said is needed for jail inmate meals and employee salaries and benefits, would put Lain nearly $1.3 million over budget for 2009 less than halfway through the year.

The shortage is not the result of out-of-control spending at the sheriff's department but unrealistic budgeting by the County Council, said jail Sgt. Bud Gootee.

The salary and food costs had been paid out of a special fund generated by housing federal and state inmates at the jail, he said. The number of those inmates has been shrinking - along with the income - but the council has not transferred enough of the costs over to the general tax fund, he said.

Lain said the council rejected his request last year to include the additional money in the general fund portion of his budget.

Council President Bob Poparad said Thursday he recognizes the problem is not going away, and the council's only option is to draw the additional funds from the general fund. When asked whether county income tax revenue could be used for the ongoing cost, Poparad said that would have to be initiated by the County Commissioners.

The Sheriff's Department's latest request has grown $197,442 from last month, when it was tabled by the council to allow time to review the figures. The increase comes entirely from the food portion of the request, which Gootee said should cover food costs through the end of the year.

This financial bind was predicted four years ago by County Commissioner Carole Knoblock, who while serving on the County Council stood alone in opposing a request by then-Sheriff Dave Reynolds for an across-the-board salary increase of $4,258 for all county police officers from the money generated by housing state and federal inmates.

Lain has defended the large pay increases from several years ago and the plan to pay the salaries out of the inmate-housing income. The approach still would be working, he said, had the county discouraged the state from pulling its inmates by agreeing to open the third wing at the county jail.

Opening that wing no longer is an option, at least not without some investment, he said. The department has had to take various parts from there to keep the other wings in operation.

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