By Tyler Roebuck
COLUMBIA CITY — After months of tense debate and drama, the Whitley County Council approved a pay increase for Janelle Schmitt as the county emergency dispatch administrator at their Nov. 7 meeting.
The decision came at the end of the meeting as Sheriff Marcus Gatton approached the council after his motion was shot down for the second time.
“I think we need to come to some sort of resolution,” Gatton said. “We have 33,000 people in the county that depend on somebody to do some duties moving forward from today. My major concern is you guys just gave $10,000 for a swimming pool for the citizens to use, but you won’t vote $10,000 for the safety of the citizens of Whitley County to have their addresses right.”
Last month, Gatton requested an increase in wages for two employees, as recommended by the personnel committee. This month, he asked again but his request was denied.
Councilman Thor Hodges argued that changes in the council and problems with the personnel committee were among his reasons for disapproving the request.
“Things evolve, people get elected, the board changes,” he said. “I think that with different people in there, the system itself has been looked at and the system that they were evaluated under has been manipulated not necessarily in just this instance but as a whole.”
The personnel committee, Hodges said, used a matrix to determine salaries and wages proportionate to the increased work, but this matrix “had been disseminated to anybody and everybody,” and “wasn’t just something that was contained to the personnel committee to use for the fair evaluation of the positions.”
“That’s exactly why that evaluation process was rescinded,” he said. “That’s exactly why a new system is going into place and we’re moving forward with it.”
In the meeting, Commissioner George Schrumpf and Gatton clarified information about the expiration of the position.
Councilman Kim Wheeler thought it was a money issue.
“We had a director in place and all the sudden somebody says, ‘Well, we need to eliminate that position because it’s way too much money,’” he said.
Schrumpf and Gatton said that is simply not true, but rather that it was a personnel issue.
“That’s not what was told to me at the first of the year when I asked about it,” Hodges replied. “When I asked who made that decision and why that position was eliminated, I was told that the council last year was asked if that position was still needed or not needed, and the council at that time – I was told – kept it in the budget for this current year with the understanding that we may eliminate it at some point.”
Schrumpf tried to clarify what occurred While it was true that they kept room in the budget for the position, the intention was not to eliminate it, he said.
“In the meantime, there was a personnel issue that came up. That job was vacated, and at that point there was a good chance to save money on that – we were paying almost $70,000 a year – these duties could be separated between two people and we could spend $10,000-15,000 instead and make sure that job is done.”
Ultimately, the council, Gatton and Schrumpf found common ground.
“Nobody’s debating the merit of the responsibility of the job – it’s everybody trying to come to a common ground on what it’s worth,” Hodges said.
Faced with the potential loss of $400,000 from State 911 if the proposed duties were not filled by the end of the year, County Council and the Sheriff’s department came to a consensus with a motion by Wheeler to increase the salary for Schmitt’s position by $5,000 per year, with the condition that it be reevaluated once the new personnel system is in place.
In other County Council news:
• With a 4-3 vote, the council approved a $10,000 contribution to the aquatics center in Columbia City, to come from the Commissioner’s CEDIT fund for economic development. Included in the approval was a level fee structure for residents countywide.
• Micropulse received a 10-year tax abatement for an upcoming expansion, where they are spending $5.5 million on new equipment and hiring 25 new employees.