CROWN POINT — Towing in Lake County just got cheaper.
Six County Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to abolish the $50 fee they once charged towing firms each time they removed a car from the public streets and highways on behalf of county police. Councilman Jamal Washington, D-Merrillville, was absent.
The council first created the fee in 2012 at Sheriff John Buncich's request to fund the salaries of several police officers he otherwise would have been forced to lay off when the recession and state-mandated tax cuts were forcing employee cuts in other county government departments.
But tax revenues have recovered since the end of the recession and the council passed a 1.5 percent personal income tax, so those officers are no longer in danger of being laid off.
Lake County Commission President Mike Repay asked the council to rescind the fee. Although Repay voted for the fee when he sat on the council in 2012, he said Tuesday he now has a better understanding of government finances.
He said the county cannot identify any other government cost the fee reimburses, and the county doesn't charge similar fees to its other business vendors.
Repay said rescinding this fee will cost the county $80,000 a year, but the county will still charge car owners a $75 fee to recover their cars from the towing companies and increase that fee in the future if government oversight of towing justifies the cost.
In addition, the Council voted 4-2 to borrow $12 million to continue removing asbestos, installing security and modernizing the four-decade-old County Government Center.
Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, and Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, oppose authorizing further debt. "We must learn to live within our means, rather than borrowing," Strong said.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said interest rates are currently low and putting off needed improvements will only increase their cost if done later.
Bilski, Council members Christine Cid, D-East Chicago; Elsie Franklin, D-Gary; and David Hamm, D-Hammond, voted in favor of the $12 million bond, which could win final approval on second reading by the July 11 council meeting.
The council voted 4-2 to hire a second deputy director for the Lake County E-911 public safety communications department.
Strong said the hiring is unnecessary for now, and the salary should be lowered since the two deputy directors will now split the duties formerly done by one person. But the council majority agreed the deputy directors will be paid $77,250 each.
The council also split 4-2 along party lines in approving the purchase of an eight-passenger van for $31,000 for use by the Lake County Weights and Measures Department.
Weights Director Christine Clay said she needs the van so employees can haul equipment needed to verify the accuracy of gasoline pumps, commercial scales and for department employees to travel to out-of-town training sessions and conventions.