The Porter County Council, which called on department heads to cut their budgets, now is dragging its feet on Auditor Bob Wichlinski's plan to address pay disparities among cross-trained employees.
Wichlinski recently eliminated one-quarter of the jobs in his office, saving the county $250,000. Factored into that savings is making adjustments to salaries — using dollars already budgeted for his department — to reflect the cross-training.
Now that employees are doing the same work, pay disparities create a morale problem.
How the council responds to Wichlinski's request will influence how willing other department heads become to make staffing changes in their own departments.
If they're reluctant to move, unsure of the support they'll get from the council, it will be difficult for the county to close the predicted $5 million budget gap by the end of the year.
An op-ed column Friday by John Evans, president of the Porter County Board of Commissioners, didn't single out Wichlinski by name, but reading between the lines makes it easy to see who he's talking about.
"Our employees work hard every day to meet the needs of our citizens and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," Evans said. "They should never be treated as political pawns for election year gains."
But neither should they be paid unfairly when their responsibilities have changed.
Nor should their working conditions be overly generous at the expense of taxpayers and citizens.
Wichlinski wants to extend his office hours by 30 minutes at either end — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and eliminate the two 15-minute breaks county employees receive in addition to their unpaid one-hour lunch break. Factor in those breaks, and employees currently work a 6.5-hour day.
The council told him not to adjust salaries until he can prove, after two months or so, that his staffing plan works.
During that time, other department heads won't be eager to offer their own sacrifices, and the deficit will grow.
The council should agree to Wichlinski's request instead of trying to micromanage.