This year, Lake County's budget-makers will have to struggle with prosperity.
County and municipal officials have begun setting spending goals for 2014 that for the first time in years will be higher, not lower, than the previous budget because of the new 1.5 percent local income tax the state will begin collecting Oct. 1 from all county residents and workers.
Fiscal officials are gleefully preparing to receive an additional $24 million Jan. 1 to be spread among the 19 cities, towns and county government. And 2015 will bring millions more in additional tax dollars when the full impact of the income tax hits local wallets.
The question now is whether local government can restrain itself after years of property tax levy freezes and caps that have forced it to skin back payrolls and spending dreams.
The County Council, which passed the income tax in May, will receive an estimated bonus of at least $15 million in new revenues next year. However, that won't be enough to cover the wish list county elected officials and department heads already have assembled.
Lake Coroner Merrilee Frey said she needed an additional $112,000 next year to ensure she could pay doctors to perform the many autopsies she orders in cases of homicides, suicides and questionable deaths.
"They do one to four every day, six days a week," Frey said.
Hobart Township Assessor Julia Wolek said her staff of five has been decimated by people on leave.
"I desperately need another employee," Wolek said. "I'm down practically to me and my chief deputy. I'm seriously considering putting a sign on the door that we're out to lunch."
Some 50 officials generated a wave of spending-increase requests for more full-time and part-time employees, more office supplies, gasoline, money for higher rent and utility bills, and salary increases ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent for the bulk of the county's 1,695 full-time employees whose pay has been frozen since 2006.
Then there is the $5 million Sheriff John Buncich said is needed to maintain sanitation, health care and inmate safety improvements in the Lake County Jail as required by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Another $7 million will be requested to shore up employee pension and health care benefits and more than $3 million to maintain the county's bridges and flood-control waterways.
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