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Dispute between Merrillville council and clerk-treasurer delays pay raises for town employees

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screenshot from YouTube meeting video
Merrillville town council members Leonard White and Shawn Pettit discuss the property assessment process during a Sept. 27 discussion on the proposed 2023 budget

An ongoing dispute between the Merrillville clerk-treasurer and the town council means some town employees will have to wait longer for a pay raise. Clerk-Treasurer Kelly White Gibson says she's decided to forgo a pay raise the council approved for her, so her employees could get raises, instead.

But at last week's council meeting, financial advisor Trista Hudson said that White Gibson actually has been receiving the higher pay rate, but the money was still available because a position was left open for at least two months.

Still, White Gibson maintained that she never actually took the pay raise. "I never asked for it to be changed. That's all. I've not been getting paid what I was promised. I've been getting paid what I was getting paid last year, so the money was still there," White Gibson said.

The ordinance raising pay for the clerk-treasurer's staff ultimately remained tabled, after three council members abstained on a vote to bring it back for further discussion.

Meanwhile, the proposed 2023 budget also drew concern during last week's meeting. Hudson said the state is raising the town's maximum property tax levy by five percent, increasing general fund tax revenues to over $8.2 million.

"So in total, we're predicting revenue upwards of $10 million, and I think that that number is something that you can be comfortable with in making your plan going forward on the general fund, specifically," Hudson explained.

She doesn't expect the tax rate to go up, but property owners could still pay more due to an increase in assessed values.

That drew concern from council member Leonard White. "If people are getting assessed valuations as another way to raise taxes on homeowners, then that's something that I can't work with. Sorry," White said.

"But none of you control that," Hudson replied.

"We don't control that," council member Shawn Pettit agreed. "The assessor controls that, Leonard. We have nothing to do with that."

"But we do know who the assessor is," White responded.

As it stands, Merrillville's 2023 budget totals almost $47.7 million, but Hudson expects that to go down, as the council makes additional cuts before the final vote next week.