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Porter County budget cuts challenged by court request

By Bob Kasarda, The Times, Munster, Ind.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 20--VALPARAISO -- The Porter County Council will find itself in a difficult situation Tuesday when Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford appears before them seeking an additional full-time employee.

The County Council has not only traditionally opposed creating new positions outside of its annual fall budgeting period, but is now calling on departments across county government to slash proposed budgets by 10 percent for next year as revenue shortfalls worsen.

Yet Bradford said he presents a unique need because all three of his veteran staff members are leaving with a collective 67 years of experience just as new charging and penalty guidelines take effect. His staff is leaving, along with at least one other county employee and one elected official, to avoid losses as result of changes to the public employee retirement program.

Bradford said he has gone 30 years with one less employee than comparable courts in the county. The need for the additional person is more urgent than ever to avoid potentially costly errors resulting from the changeover in staff and new criminal code to learn.

Bradford hopes he is able to convince the council to approve the additional expenditure without enacting his power to mandate the hiring.

The new position would cost the county $31,145 annually in salary and an estimated $20,000 additional each year for health insurance, retirement and Social Security.

County Councilwoman Karen Conover, R-3rd, said judges don't typically come forward with unreasonable requests, but fulfilling this one is going to come at a cost.

"If he gets that, then something else suffers," she said.

"We're in a really bad spot right now," she said of the revenue losses in the general fund, which is used to pay for employees.

Councilwoman Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said she is willing to listen to Bradford's request, yet believes funding the position is going to be a challenge.

"If it gets mandated, it's going to be extremely difficult," she said.

Bradford hopes the new legal assistant can start by Aug. 18, which is just a few days before his existing staff leaves. He said the impact will be smaller on this year's budget since less than five months of salary is needed.

The price of hiring the person is also not as great when compared to the potential cost of litigation resulting from the court making an error due to insufficient staff, he said.

New Strategy to avoid RMDs

Bradford is not alone in challenging the council's call for 10 percent budgets cuts in 2015. Only seven of the 45 applicable general fund budgets turned in recently included the required cuts. Even the council was initially an offender, until the omission was pointed out and the group cut in half the salary of its budget and finance specialist.

County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, has said the failure by so many departments to make the required 10 percent budget cut puts the reductions in the council's hands.

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(c)2014 The Times (Munster, Ind.)

Visit The Times (Munster, Ind.) at www.nwitimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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New Strategy to avoid RMDs