Lake County's more than 150 mayors, town managers, controllers, clerks, clerk-treasurers, judges and council members received more than $6 million in wages and benefits last year, with salaries ranging from less than $4,200 to more $142,000.
The average elected municipal official's wages in Lake County are about 68 percent higher than their constituents' per capita income, according to federal, state and local data, and the contrast was even more startling in Gary and East Chicago, where they preside over some of Indiana's most intense concentrations of poverty.
Marie Eisenstein, an associate professor of political science at Indiana University Northwest, said the pattern was set when all three cities were larger in population and had a significant business base, which has largely departed with the tens of thousands of former residents, but the salaries of elected officials kept going up.
The high cost of government leads to a high cost of doing business in Northwest Indiana, and it can be a deal breaker, Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar said. "Local taxes come into the decision-making of local businesses about where to grow and expand," he said.
East Chicago's 12 elected officials combine for nearly $820,000 in salaries and public contributions to their medical and life insurance coverage, pensions, and Social Security and Medicare benefits. Compensation for Gary's officeholders adds up to about $740,000, and Hammond's to $602,000.
Many Lake County communities supplement elected officials' salaries with drinking water, stormwater, sewer, refuse and utility fees they collect, and award longevity pay or stipends for attending community board meetings. The public must piece together all of an official's salary stream to arrive at their full compensation.
Local taxpayers also are tapped for the expense of providing medical, dental and life insurance, their public pensions, and Social Security and Medicare benefits, which in the cases of full-time elected officials can push their total compensation 25 percent or more above their salary.
A Times Media Co. survey of local and state records of mayors around the state indicates seven of this county's mayors and town managers are among the top-income earners.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is at the top of the pay scale at $142,096.
Just below her, former Munster Town Manager Tom DeGiulio was on track to receive an annual salary of $135,966 before the Town Council declined to renew his contract last summer. East Chicago's Mayor Anthony Copeland was paid $129,408, and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. $104,807 the same year.
Lake's mayors and town managers make an average salary of just more than $91,500 — three times the average per capita income of their 12 communities and higher than 63 of 68 mayors and city and town managers around the state, as reported to the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns' annual salary survey.
"Personally, I think I'm underpaid," McDermott said, noting several Hammond school principals make more money than he does.
You have free articles remaining.
The salaries for the controller and clerk for the city of Fort Wayne were a combined $195,140, which led the Times survey of state municipal wages. Gary, Hammond, Valparaiso, East Chicago, Michigan City, Munster and Whiting also were in the state's top ranks.
Munster Town Clerk David Shafer deserved his $92,000 salary last year, according to Munster Town Councilman John Reed. "Clerk-treasurers have to live under even more harsh rules than the generally accepted accounting principles placed on a corporate CFO (chief financial officer)," Reed said.
East Chicago's City Council members made top dollar in the state in 2014 at $42,356.
The Times survey of municipal salaries indicates East Chicago City Council members' income is more than five times the average salary of council members of 75 community governments surveyed by Indiana Association of Cities and Towns last year.
East Chicago council members said they used to receive less than half that amount in salary until the city treated their annual stipend of charitable donations as part of their income.
Hammond City Council members last year received a $25,143 annual salary. Municipal council members are typically considered and paid as part time, but East Chicago's Lenny Franciski said the reality is something else.
"Ask my wife; it is a full-time job. Any little piece of literature I put out there, I put my cell number, my home number. I answer every call I receive. Especially as council president, you take the job home with you," he said.
Hundreds of municipal council members also draw a second salary as an employee of their city or town government, although a recent state law threatens that income, declaring their double employment as a conflict of interest. Adam Sedia, a Dyer trial lawyer, represents six local municipal council officials who are suing to have a federal judge declare this law unconstitutional.
Lake's city judges were paid an average salary of $51,471, including Hammond City Judge Jeffrey A. Harkin who was fourth in the state, receiving $80,377, according to The Times survey. Lake's town judges were paid an average salary of $33,128, including Merrillville Town Judge Gina L. Jones, who was 13th statewide at $45,500.
The county's municipal officials also were on the road last year, spending nearly $130,000 in travel and lodging expenses.
Readers can access public employees salary in the Indiana Gateway database at: https://gateway.ifionline.org/report_builder/Default3a.aspx?rptType=employComp&rpt=EmployComp&