Growing up, did you ever call your parents mean or heartless for buying you off-brand shoes or jeans instead of a pair of Nikes and Levi's?
I remember feeling left out at school when other kids were walking around in the name-brand stuff, and I was branded a nerd or slob because the combined salaries of a barber and a schoolteacher demanded more frugality in the clothing budget. But I never felt anger toward my parents for making more responsible spending choices. I knew they were doing the best they could — the right thing by our finances.
Unfortunately, critics in Porter County are giving County Auditor Bob Wichlinski an earful, dubbing him all kinds of evil for making tough and uncomfortable — but necessary — choices to keep his office operating in a fiscally responsible manner.
Wichlinski recently restructured his office, eliminating five employees and their positions from his payroll with a reported savings of $250,000.
Though the decision followed calls from the Porter County Council to rein in spending in a fiscally tight budget year, Wichlinski said he had been eyeing the changes for some time. Just before the restructuring occurred, Porter County Council President Dan Whitten noted a budget shortfall of $5.3 million for this year and as much as $8 million for next year.
Rather than waiting for some fiscal crisis to force belt-tightening, Wichlinski, who is heading down the final stretch of his first term in the elected office, took action now to slim down his corner of local government.
Wichlinski, who was elected in 2010, said he opted to take his time before making the cuts, getting a feel for how the office operates and which tasks were most essential or could be consolidated.
He made this serious — and potentially politically damaging decision — as he prepares to seek a second term in office. But that sort of fiscal responsibility and honesty, regardless of political fallout, should be admired, not shunned.
No one wants to see people lose their jobs, but tax caps and other growing fiscal restraints on local government are forcing tough choices. Voters throughout Northwest Indiana should be demanding elected officials willing to make the hard calls, regardless of how painful or distasteful.
Local government can no longer afford to be an employment agency for the masses.
Some of Wichlinski's critics are criticizing his cutting of office staff when tens of thousands of dollars is spent on outside consultants. I agree too many tasks of government these days are being contracted out to high-paid consultants — often buddies of the elected. This is a particular problem in Lake County government.
But so are bloated government payrolls that can no longer stand upon pillars of increasingly shrinking dollars.
In the end, Wichlinski decided bloated patronage is a luxury for which his constituents shouldn't be unnecessarily paying. He decided taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook to outfit county government in designer jeans and name-brand sneakers.