RICH JAMES: 2014 income tax money isn't a windfall

2013-09-08T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: 2014 income tax money isn't a windfallBy Rich James nwitimes.com
September 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I'd rather be a roofer on a sweltering July day than a member of the Lake County Council right now.

The seven council members are feeling tons of heat even though we are sliding into refreshing fall weather.

It seems far too many people are opposed to the council spending the money from the soon-to-be-collected 1.5 percent county income tax.

At least they don't want a nickel of it spent on a salary increase for 1,600-plus county workers who haven't had a raise since 2006.

It is so bad that some mental-midget over in Griffith wants to move to another county to avoid paying the new tax. He's encouraging everyone in Lake County to do so.

I guess Griffith would be better off without him.

The Griffith fellow is rather extreme, but he represents a certain mindset about what to do with the $17 million the income tax will produce next year.

There is a feeling that unless the big fellow himself signs off on an expenditure, county councilmen better back away or face eternal damnation.

The council borrowed $15 million last year to balance the budget.

There are some, including current Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, who foolishly thought the county could have cut its way to a balanced budget.

The council has been cutting costs ever since the state froze its levy in 2007 for refusing to adopt an income tax.

Hundreds of jobs have been eliminated. The remaining county workers – the ones who haven't had a raise while watching their health care costs increase – have sucked it up to get the job done.

The wasteful spending of old has been cut to a minimum. No longer do people roam the halls because they have little to do.

The critics of county government – those who think they can nickel and dime their way to a balanced budget – are the first ones to holler when services aren't what they think they ought to be.

The county needs a 2014 budget that repays some of the $15 million it borrowed to stay afloat this year. It also has no choice but to spend $5 million more for federally mandated jail upgrades.

And rather than continuing to pay outlandish amounts of overtime, the hiring of more corrections officers is vital.

The 2014 income tax money isn't a windfall. Given other demands, it's not enough for employee raises, even though most of them are terribly underpaid.

And, please, I don't need to hear anyone else say they ought to spend the money wisely. The council has learned to do that during these lean years.

I think that's what we elected them to do.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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