Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Times Argues Income Tax Revenue Isn't a Catchall for New County Spending

From the Northwest Indiana Times:

The lines just keep getting longer for sectors of local government begging for a piece of the revenue generated by the Lake County local option income tax.
But this new stream of county and local government revenue isn't mad money. Local government must ensure the new revenue -- coming on the backs of county taxpayers via a 1.5 percent income tax -- isn't squandered on unsustainable propositions.
Danger for this exists in a push by Lake County government employees for an across-the-board pay increase -- something the government center's legion of 1,658 workers hasn't seen in seven years. The Lake County Council must guard against using the newly acquired income tax revenues, most of which are earmarked for public safety and economic development purposes, for county employee pay raises.
While it's true county government employees salaries haven't kept pace with inflation, neither have the paychecks of many private-sector employees living within the county. Those private-sector employees have learned to do more with less, and the local option income tax should not be used as a tool for redistributing their wealth to the paychecks of county government employees.
GOP County Councilman Eldon Strong, of Crown Point, seems to have offered a level-headed approach -- one that doesn't close the door on county government pay raises but also recognizes the need for county government to become more frugal.
Strong proposes a freeze on hiring more government employees, initiating a cross-training program so existing employees can take on more work across departments and adopting a pay-grade classification system to keep salaries of politically connected workers from becoming unfairly bloated above others doing the same work.
Strong also realizes the county has yet to eliminate all of the duplication and waste within its ranks before entertaining proposals of fattening employees' paychecks. He proposes closing down the satellite courthouses in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago to free up more money.
The county spends a collective $1.3 million annually -- not counting all employee salaries -- in maintenance, service and operations costs at those satellite courts alone, and it's a luxury we can no longer afford. The 2006 Good Government study recommended consolidating all of the county's courts into the main facility in Crown Point, but tired-out notions of political fiefdoms have foiled those recommendations.
County officials have argued in recent years they've taken the fiscal knife to previous government bloat, and we agree some strides have been made. But the county still has opportunities for greater efficiencies -- options that must be explored before considering employee pay raises or other new spending.