CROWN POINT — Most Lake County employees will receive a 3% pay raise next year under the 2020 budget tentatively approved unanimously Wednesday by the county council.
That's less than the 5% wage hikes sought by most county department heads for their staffers. But it's in line with state projections of 3.5% year-over-year revenue growth for the county.
Aside from wages, the budget proposal generally maintains spending in most departments at 2019 levels, except for approximately $5.5 million in special funding requests endorsed by the council over the past two weeks.
Those include, among other items, funds for a federally required engine overhaul of the sheriff's department helicopter; extra money for body bags and other supplies at the coroner's office; hiring a new sheriff's office employee to manage school safety grant applications; and bringing on three new county employees to maintain the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at a lower cost than the county's previous HVAC contractor.
The council initially balked at Prosecutor Bernie Carter's request to boost wages for county prosecutors above the 3% pay hike it awarded to other county employees, even though Carter said Lake prosecutors work longer hours, have higher caseloads and earn less than their peers in every other large Indiana county.
However, after Carter personally pleaded a second time to increase the starting salary for new prosecutors above $44,000 a year, in the hope of preventing his prosecutors from getting poached by nearby counties that pay more, the council gave in and approved the $310,000 Carter sought for the extra raises.
"We need that amount to pay our attorneys," Carter said. "And it won't even take them where they should be."
At the same time, the council rejected a request by the county's emergency management agency to add a second deputy director while a search is ongoing to fill the department director post that has been vacant since December.
Though the council did authorize the hiring of five new 911 emergency services dispatchers, and two new 911 supervisors, using funds generated by the $1 monthly 911 fee paid by all telephone subscribers in the state.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said he believes the process of deciding how to spend the approximately $114 million in tax revenue that the county is expected to collect next year was fair and equitable.
"Year after year you work hard with each department's functions, where the needs are, what the demands are, what the mandates are, and you have to take that action accordingly," Bilski said. "I'm glad we were able to make some adjustments and give a lot of the folks what they were asking for.
"You have seven people here, with seven different opinions, and we were able to come together and pass a balanced budget — which is something to be proud of."
The council is slated to give final approval to its 2020 spending plan on Oct. 8.