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* CROWN POINT — Lake officials buy plenty of advice at taxpayers' expense.

A Times survey of Lake County's contractual services over the past two years has located more than 150 consultants who can expect as much as $11 million in public pay per year.

It represents about 4 percent of the approximately $300 million that Lake County government spends annually on more than 30,000 employees and vendors.

Local officials hate the expense, but love the consultation.

The county's consultants help manage the jail; administer jury selection; create, store and destroy public records; calculate tax bills; collect child support; decide how much to pay county government employees; and a host of other duties.

"It's frustrating. My God, there would be so much money to save, and it would eliminate a lot of this bonding if we could do it all in-house," Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, said.

Consultants, those who are in the profession of offering expert advice, make up only a small portion of the businesses and individuals providing the county with material and services. Unlike county government employees, consultants generally don't receive health care and pension benefits.

A Times survey of consulting awards since 2014 shows the county spending or planning to spend about $11 million per year.

That is in contrast to an earlier Times survey of consulting costs from 2000 to 2009. It found county government spent $16.9 million over the entire 10-year period.

The number of consultants and consultant service dollars has grown in recent years; they now cover federally mandated services to county jail inmates. The county pays physicians, nurses, psychiatric experts, computer managers and others a little more than $5 million a year to deal with their health care problems.

The cost of representing low-income criminal defendants was previously borne primarily by lawyers who were county employees.

Now the county brings in more lawyers working, not as employees, but as consultants who don't have to be covered by county government's health insurance program.

Scheub and his fellow commissioners do all the hiring, but Scheub laments, "It's a no-win situation for the commissioners who don't have control over the financing, which comes from the County Council. If we say no and something goes wrong, then it's the commissioners' fault for not approving the consultant."

"I tried to do away with Department of Justice consultant Ken Ray for the sheriff. I got push-back on that," Scheub said.

"I tried to get rid of an E-911 consultant out of Milwaukee and had no luck there. The assessor came in with another consultant. I struck out."

Lake Assessor Jerome Prince said he wanted XSoft of Noblesville, Ind., for advice on restructuring his office staff and providing computer-aided mass appraisal services for all the county's elected tax assessors during his first year in office. Scheub wanted to stay with the with the previous consultant, Manatron Inc.

Prince said, "I didn't have the technical knowledge. We brought in the heaviest gun we could."

Lake County Highway Superintendent Marcus Malczewski said his department doesn't have a large enough staff to design and build the scores of bridges his department is responsible for maintaining. "I can't build a small bridge for less than a half million.

"It's costly, because bridges are overdesigned in my opinion. Years ago, it was  simple. Now you have to have permits from every agency under the sun. It's not whether you want consultants; you've got to have them. The federal requirements are incredible — from right-of-way acquisitions to environmental studies," Malczewski said.

Consultants long have found a niche in local government budgets around the state, said Stephanie Yager, executive director of the Indiana Association of County Commissioners.

"Local elected officials, in most cases, haven't made a career of government and lack experience in areas they have to deal with," Yager said. And the state offers little guidance in areas where government has become more complicated, such as tax assessment — creating more work for professional advisers, she said.

Where the money goes

Another area that's been overtaken by consultants is Lake County Jail. The county pays, as noted, more than $5.1 million annually to manage and deliver medical, psychiatric and counseling services to 14,000 incarcerated in the jail. That is since a 2010 federal settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to settle claims of civil rights abuses.

Eleven consultants and consulting firms screen new inmates for medical and mental health problems, and monitor suicide risks, fire safety, pest control, food service, sanitation and unnecessary use of force on inmates.

Sheriff John Buncich said without their work, "We would have a federal monitor and that would be costing this county a ton more money. Next year, we will be out of federal oversight."

Six firms are doing more than $2.1 million in work for the county highway and surveyor's office. DLZ of Columbus, Ohio, alone holds four contracts worth nearly $1.5 million for surveying, bridge inspection and engineering services.

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Legal advice accounts for another $1.3 million a year in county spending.

Most of the 64 attorneys are public defenders who annually represent thousands of indigent defendants facing charges ranging from shoplifting to murder cases who cannot afford private lawyers.

County officials said federal and state law mandates this service. State government pays 40 percent of salaries of those defenders working in the four rooms of Lake Superior Court, Criminal Division, which deal exclusively with the most serious criminal matters.

The other lawyers serve as legal advisers to elected county officials, who can become the target of lawsuits of people who claim they are damaged by government actions.

John P. Bushemi and the law firm of Burke, Costanza & Carberry will be paid up to $145,000 in 2016 to defend the Sheriff's Department against lawsuits filed over police and jail matters. Still other lawyers deal with disciplinary actions taken against county police or corrections officers.

Lake Sheriff Buncich said, "I get named in everything. (Inmates) file lawsuits because their burritos weren't hot enough. It creates a lot of legal work."

Elsewhere, the county employs five bill collectors to chase overdue real estate and personal property taxes owed county government. In past years, the county has paid millions in collection fees, but Lake County Auditor John Petalas said that cost now is charged exclusively to the delinquent taxpayers when they pay up.

Solutions tough to implement

Scheub said commissioners have attempted to replace the practice of giving each elected office its own attorney with a small team of full-time attorneys under the commissioners' control.

Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said he would like to consolidate all legal and financial consultants into a single department, similar to the Legislative Services Agency, which supports state legislators.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said he is unfamiliar with any effort to pool county lawyers, but believes the sheriff has authority under state law to have a separate attorney. "I know when it comes to tax sales, the laws are specific for the treasurer and assessor and auditor retaining legal counsel," he said.

Lake Surveyor William Emerson Jr., whose office oversees public engineering projects, such as the maintenance of storm water ditches, said, "We do as much as we can in-house, but a licensed surveyor consultant for reviewing property plats is a lot more cost-effective than employing a full-time licensed surveyor.

Emerson said he has reduced consulting costs by $53,304 in less than two years and expects to save an additional $5,000 per year by paying consultants on an hourly basis, as opposed to the flat annual fees of the previous administration, but he cannot eliminate it.

"I'm a civil engineer by training, but I don't have a professional engineer license. State law requires an engineering project to be signed off by an engineer," he said.

Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, agrees more scrutiny is needed. "I question the need for consultants all the time when I have the opportunity, but a lot of times we don't because it's already in the commissioners' budget," he said.

Strong said, "If they want a new consultant, they have to come to (the council). I routinely vote no on them, like when we hired one of the more recent consultants for 911. It was only $3,000, but it was still absurd. (Lake County E-911 Director) Brian Hitchcock was brought in as our expert. He should know the issues. That is a waste of money."

Strong said some consultants are justified, particularly lawyers hired as public defenders to assist with criminal courts caseload when the county's regular public defenders are tied up in death penalty cases.

He said he objects to consultants hidden in the budget behind fuzzy rubrics such as "maintenance and service contracts." "It's about transparency and not be spending money foolishly," Strong said.

Council President Ted Bilski said he and other elected officials eliminated jobs and benefits during the recent recession years, but the council is reluctant to dictate who other county officeholders can hire.

"The people elected those folks, whether it's the auditor or assessor, to be public stewards. We make sure they work within the financial means we have at the county level. Outside that, we defer the negotiation of contracts to the commissioners and the elected officials," Bilski said.

Commissioner Repay said the challenge is to hire the right number of consultants.

"For our work on the county drainage board, we have two engineering firms and two attorneys. You could say we have four people working on the same issues, and you should only have one, and that's bad.

"Or, you could say that if you leave this to just one individual, that individual may not be qualified in all the different aspects. You could argue more isn't better, but for a decision-maker like myself, I want to hear more rather than less to avoid being sued," Repay said.

* This story has been changed.

Lake County consultants

The data was collected from Lake County financial records, showing the annual rates of pay consultants receive from county government.

Consultant Department Job description Annual salary
Correctional Health Indiana Inc. Sheriff medical care $4,200,410
Infor US Data software/hardware maintenance $282,715
United Consulting Highway bridge engineering $237,000
John P. Bushemi Sheriff legal $185,000
Mazzitello Professional Services MPS E-911 radio tower placement $180,000
United Consulting Highway traffic signals $152,350
Kenneth A. Ray Justice Services Sheriff jail management $134,852
DLZ Indiana LLC Highway bridge engineering $124,950
Faith A. Ornelas Sheriff psychiastric nurse practioner $120,000
Lisa O'Keefe jail mental health care nurse practioner $120,000
Butler, Fairman & Seufert Inc. Highway bridge inspection $111,375
Dell Financial Services LLC Data $110,464
Information & Records Association Sheriff recordkeeping $101,080
Lake County Fire Chief's Association Commissioners homeland security $100,000
Judicial Systems Inc. Courts jury administration $97,252
Nexus Assessor trending $97,000
Shaun Wehle Sheriff mental health director $96,328
John S. Dull Commissioners legal $96,000
Ara K. Yeretsian Sheriff psych care $93,600
Mark E. Purevich Sheriff jail management $85,000
Service Express Inc. $76,932
Randy H. Wyllie Auditor legal $75,000
Tri-Electronics E-911 radio installation $75,000
Fresh Start Counseling Services Community Corrections inmate counseling $74,200
Ray L. Szarmach County Council legal $72,000
Daniel Bade Sheriff dental care $71,800
ATN Technology $66,845
Joseph Irak Commissioners legal $65,000
Planted Seed Ministries Inc. Sheriff inmate counseling $60,000
Richard J. Cockrum/Capital Assets LLC Commissioners lobbying $60,000
Cender & Company Commissioners & E-911 financial analysis $120,000
KnowInk Voter software/hardware maintenance $58,000
Maximus Circuit Court child support claiming service $30,000
Thomas Burke Surveyor engineering $61,324
A. Leon Sarkisian Sheriff legal $53,000
United Consulting Highway bridge engineering $50,700
Addiction and Behavioral Counseling Sheriff inmate counseling $50,000
Ron Ostojic Treasurer legal $50,000
HWC Engineering Inc. Highway bridge engineering $41,740
Nicole Bennett E-911 legal $40,000
Shared Resources/Tom Dabertin E-911 advice $40,000
Thomas Dabertin Commissioners job descriptions $39,500
Tramel Raggs Commissioners ? $36,000
John D. Feczko Coroner autopsies $34,980
CHA Consulting/R.W. Amrstrong Highway bridge inspection $68,130
Joann Price Juvenile Court detention alternatives coordinator $32,492
Lisa Beck Commissioners legal/grant approval $31,950
Adrian Guzman Recorder legal $31,000
Gottlieb & Wertz Juvenile Court accounting $30,750
SLG Consulting Services LLC Commissioners public record destruction $30,000
Vasilia Bessie Pangere Commissioners legal $29,800
Thomas K. Hoffman Circuit Court legal $28,500
Walter J. Alvarez Sheriff legal $26,500
John Pangere Treasurer legal $25,000
Linda S. Garcia-Marmolejo County Council legal $25,000
Lemuel Perkins County Council budget analysis $25,000
Northwest Psychological Services Sheriff psych care $25,000
John Pangere Treasurer legal $24,930
Tri-Electronics Sheriff radio maintenance $24,420
Chester Inc. Voter printer maintenance $22,746
David E. Wickland Elections legal $22,500
James L. Wieser Elections legal $22,500
Tiger Group LLC $20,400
Brian P. Popp Assessor legal $20,000
Darnail Lyles Assessor legal $20,000
Cliff Duggan Surveyor legal $19,800
DLZ Indiana LLC Commissioners signage $19,500
Professional Land Surveying P.C. R. Waid Dillon Surveyor surveying $19,200
Joseph Curosh III Public Defender legal $18,000
Arlington J. Foley Public Defender legal $18,000
Derla R. Gross Public Defender legal $18,000
Marc Laterzo Public Defender legal $18,000
John Maksimovich Public Defender legal $18,000
Kristin A. Mulholland Public Defender legal $18,000
Nicholas Barns of Vourga & Assoc. LLC Public Defender legal $18,000
Roseann Ivanovich Public Defender legal $18,000
Roxanne Mendez Johnson Public Defender legal $18,000
Matthew D. LaTulip Public Defender legal $18,000
Samuel Vazanellis Public Defender legal $18,000
Ihor Alexander Woloshansky Public Defender legal $18,000
Nancy Moore Tiller Clerk legal $17,500
Steven A. Kurowski PC Public Defender legal $17,100
Terrence J.; Bronowski Highway accounting $17,000
Thomas S. Mullins Public Defender legal $15,600
Thomas K. Hoffman Circuit Court legal $15,000
Alger Boswell Public Defender legal $15,000
Daryl D. Jones Public Defender legal $15,000
Judge Gina L. Jones Public Defender legal $15,000
Philip T. King Public Defender legal $15,000
Jamise Perkins Public Defender legal $15,000
Cipriano Rodriquez III Public Defender legal $15,000
Patrick Young Public Defender legal $15,000
American Valuation Group Hobart Township Assessor appraisal services $15,000
Hooks Consulting Inc. Community Development software/hardware maintenance $15,000
Crystal C. Shannon Juvenile Court data coordinator $14,040
On Site Computer LLC Sheriff software/hardware maintenance $13,624
Ola Smith Commissioners poor relief hearing officer $12,900
Charles E. Enslen Public Defender legal $12,500
Clorius Lay Public Defender legal $12,500
Charles E. Enslen Sheriff legal $12,500
Clorius Lay Sheriff legal $12,500
Jim Bennett Treasurer accounting $12,000
Aaron A. Koonce Public Defender legal $12,000
Erik K. Morris Public Defender legal $12,000
Russell W. Brown Jr. Public Defender legal $12,000
William Longer Data legal $12,000
Adrian Guzman Recorder legal $12,000
Daniel Calhoun Public Defender legal $12,000
Richard L. Mayer Public Defender legal $12,000
Joseph Roberts Public Defender legal $12,000
John Vazanellis Public Defender legal $12,000
CoStar Realty Information Inc. Center, Ross, St. John Twp assessors real estate listing $10,620
DLZ Indiana LLC Commissioners courthouse entrance engineering $10,250
Deanna Brack Juvenile Court truancy intervention $10,000
Andrew V. Giorgi Public Defender legal $9,984
Government Fixed Asset Service Inc. Auditor asset inventory $9,950
Microvote General Corp Voter software/hardware maintenance $9,500
Brett Galvan Public Defender legal $7,200
Ann Vasquez Juvenile Court truancy intervention $7,200
Hewlett Packard Data software/hardware maintenance $6,343
Professional Claims Manatg Commissioners health insurance claims $6,250
Robert Hess Coroner legal $6,000
Ron Ostojic Sheriff legal $6,000
Justin Murphy Sheriff legal $6,000
Visvaldis P. Kupsis Public Defender legal $6,000
Thomas S. Mullins Recorder legal $6,000
Peter Katic Surveyor legal $5,880
Professional Claims Managmenet insurance $5,500
Shared Ethics Advisory Commission Commissioners ethics training $5,000
United Consulting Highway bridge engineering $5,000
Lorrell Kilpatrick Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,888
Amanda Kontor Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,888
Ronna Lukasik-Rosenbaum Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,888
Isaac Washington Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,888
Michael O'Donnell Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,888
Joe Krnich Recorder accounting $3,600
Wyndi Parker Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,366
Kimberly Syler Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,366
Thomas Byelick Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,366
Raeanne Halfeldt Juvenile Court truancy intervention $3,366
Philip King Public Defender legal $3,000
Cardno E-911 wetland designation $5,500
David Hasselbring Real Estate Appraisals St. John Assessor appraising $1,275
A. E. Boyce Company Inc. Commissioners Hermit's Lake wastewater management $1,055
Bloomfield Mechanical Corp. Lake County Coop. heating/cooling maintenance $1,029
Patricia Bacan Voter training $800
American Structurepoint Highway $123,168
Matthew Fech Commissioners unemployment $12,911
American Structurepoint Surveyor drainage $47,766

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.