It seems about all one can do when a number of Lake County's elected leaders seek pay raises four or five times larger than the 3 percent raises already approved for about 900 full-time county government employees.

And what can Lake County taxpayers working in the private sector — many of whom have been lucky to see any pay raise at all within the past decade — do but sigh?

Gasps, followed by heavy exhales, echoed throughout the county Thursday as seven of the county's top elected leaders sought pay raises of 11 percent or higher.

It's all part of their own personal enrichment plans heading into the 2017 budget year.

Let's hope they all come to their senses before this self-congratulatory largess becomes a permanent part of the budget.

And if they persist in such exorbitant requests, we can only hope the Lake County Council, the county's fiscal body that has yet to request a pay raise for itself, sees the light and votes down the unreasonable pay hikes.

Among the folks requesting massive pay raises are Lake County Recorder Mike Brown, Lake County Auditor John Petalas, Lake County Treasurer Peggy Katona, Lake County Surveyor Bill Emerson Jr. and two of the three county commissioners.

They all seek a whopping 11 percent pay bump in 2017.

Lake County Assessor Jerome Prince wants a 16 percent pay hike, from a base salary of $56,050 to $65,000.

Some of these leaders have served taxpayers admirably in the past, but that's not the issue.

Surveyor Emerson has done an admirable job of bringing fiscal responsibility into an office previously stained with the embarrassment of his predecessor George Van Til's criminal conviction for essentially stealing from taxpayers.

I've congratulated Emerson before for his efforts to restore order and reputation to the office responsible for the county's stormwater drainage issues.

But seeking an 11 percent raise when most other county employees are receiving 3 percent is hardly the way into the fiscal hearts of taxpayers.

"I believe there were many years when elected officials didn't get raises," Emerson told The Times late last week. "I heard other elected officials were asking for a raise. I think my request is reasonable given the work I provide the county, my experience and education."

There are several things wrong with the self-promoting arguments of Emerson and other county officials.

First of all, Emerson is making this request before he's had a single real vote of confidence from county residents.

He took office in January 2014 following a vote by Democratic Party precinct committeemen, not voters at large. Emerson was replacing the disgraced Van Til, whose felony conviction automatically knocked him out of office.

Emerson then ran unopposed for his office in the spring 2016 primary. He won't get his first official test by the electorate until the November general election, and he's running unopposed again.

So it's not much of a test.

In short, Emerson has only held a position — for which he seeks an 11 percent pay bump — for less than two years, with no real voter mandate, but wants to claim it's been ages since the position saw a salary increase.

Much the same can be said of Recorder Mike Brown.

He's seeking the same 11 percent pay hike — from $56,050 to $62,500 in base salary. Brown is just completing his inaugural four-year term as recorder.

His position certainly hasn't weathered any economic storms.

But even if he had, few among us believe a pay increase so far and above other county workers is warranted.

It's true the Great Recession and state-imposed tax caps and a levy freeze all contributed to a pay freeze for all county officials and employees between 2007 and 2013.

The lion's share of Northwest Indiana, both public- and private-sector employees, weathered the very same economic storm.

Many of us faced pay freezes, furloughs and intense belt-tightening.

When the clouds of recession began to lift, most of us didn't see pay increases of between 11 percent and 16 percent to make up for all of those years.

So the sighs continue when our elected leaders — who hopefully ran for office to serve and not enrich themselves — argue they're entitled to such massive pay hikes.

The only thing breathing a bit of oxygen back into the hopeful lungs of county taxpayers are the handful of the county's top elected officials who aren't displaying greed.

Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey is requesting a 3 percent raise, which would boost her base salary from $57,732 to $56,050. It's the same percentage increase as most other full-time county employees are receiving.

Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, who faces a tough re-election bid in November, also is taking the high road by seeking a lower pay increase.

His fellow commissioners, Mike Repay and Kyle Allen, both seek 11 percent pay increases, from $56,050 to $62,500 in base salaries.

Scheub, like Frey and Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, seeks only a 3 percent pay hike.

They seem to get what the rest of their elected county department head colleagues don't.

These folks sought elective office, knowing full well the rate of pay. If it's not lucrative enough for them, it's time to seek employment elsewhere.

Rather than sighing, voters should help these elected leaders find new work whenever possible.

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or Follow him on Facebook at or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.


Marc is a veteran investigative reporter and editor of more than 15 years, including 10 years at The Times, where he is the investigative editor. He is also the founder of the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project.