In county government, as with businesses, the employees are the biggest cost. But county government hasn't followed the private sector's lead yet in managing that cost, or those employees, well.
"It is clear we cannot sustain the costs associated with continuing what we are currently doing," Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs said. He said Porter County needs to restructure employment practices, decrease service or raise taxes.
Restructuring is the preferred approach to address this issue.
Porter County will spend more than $37.6 million on its employees this year. Lake County will spend between $53 million and $59 million.
Benefits are generous, with a dozen or more paid holidays each year and employees picking up a far smaller share of their health insurance premiums than their counterparts in the private sector.
In Porter County, the work week is 32.5 to 35 hours, yet employees get 10 to 25 paid vacation days a year, depending on the number of years of experience. Lake County employees work 40-hour weeks and get up to 30 paid vacation days, depending on when they were hired.
Add up all the paid time off, for vacation, sick or personal days and holidays, and an employee could get paid to be absent as much as two months a year.
That's generous to a fault.
The recent analysis of county employment practices by staff writers Bill Dolan and Bob Kasarda points anew to the need for Lake and Porter counties to reform employment practices and address costs.
Top priority should be to hire a human resources professional to bring uniformity in salaries and benefits, as well as to screen job applicants so the best job candidates are hired, regardless of political considerations.
Address the cost of health insurance through competitive bidding, increasing employees' share of the premiums and other steps.
Cross-train clerical employees where appropriate so they can handle tasks in other departments as needed. They should consider themselves county employees, not just of one particular department. This would improve customer service when each department has its own busy season.
Elected officials value government employees, as they should, but start managing that asset better.