CROWN POINT — Lake County government pays some of its employees a wage that could leave them below the poverty line.
Even after four years of across-the-board pay raises, 66 deputy clerks, secretaries, case workers, technicians, janitors, groundskeepers, cooks, housekeepers and security officers are among its 1,852 full-time employees who have annual salaries of between $21,855 and $24,906.
A 2006 efficiency study by Lake County's largest corporate taxpayers took county officials to task for patronage hiring practices that resulted in too many low-paid workers costing taxpayers excess insurance and pension benefits.
The Lake County Council is scheduled to cast a final vote Oct. 9 approving a 2019 budget that will raise them to $25,000 a year. That is 65 percent above minimum wage in Indiana, but still below the federal poverty level set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a family of four.
Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, voted for the raise. "We need to give these people a living wage," she said.
The council also has given preliminary approval for a 3 percent across-the-board raise for all full-time employees, excluding those being raised up to $25,000 a year.
Councilman Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said the raises are needed. Wages were frozen between 2007 to 2013 when property tax revenues shrank during the recession and the state mandated cuts to local property taxes. Some county government payroll was trimmed by 112 jobs.
That trend was reversed by the economic recovery and the adoption of a 1.5 percent personal income tax on county residents and those who work in the county. It has provided the recent pay raises and the addition of new jobs.
The 2019 budget would encompass spending $1 million to hire seven new employees to operate Odyssey, the Lake Circuit and Lake Superior courts' new document system as well as pay supplements to other court personnel who process court records.
Court officials say that cost is reduced by current and future savings.
The county no longer has to pay $350,000 in computer software licensing fees to the old Courtview data system. Once the filing of court records are moved completely online at the end of this year, fewer employees will be needed in the county clerk's office to process physical paperwork.