GOSHEN — The spending habits of Elkhart County government, particularly as they relate to the Elkhart County Highway Department, came under heavy fire by a group of disgruntled former employees Saturday during a meeting of the Elkhart County Council, prompting council members to vow increased scrutiny of the department in the coming weeks.
Leading the charge against the department Saturday were representatives of a group of 10 former department drivers and maintenance workers whose jobs were terminated back in late March due to a reported reorganization and scaling-down of the department.
Through the work force reduction, department representatives have indicated they will be able to save about $400,000 in salaries and benefits during a time when funding, received primarily through the state’s gas tax and wheel tax, is continuing to decline due to ongoing modernization and increasing gas milage of the nation’s automobiles.
The former employees, however, feel the department’s money woes rest almost exclusively with current County Highway Manager Jeff Taylor and what they say are his wasteful spending and management practices.
Serving as a catalyst for Saturday’s outcry were several human resource-related requests made by representatives of both the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department and Elkhart County Highway Department.
Presenting the sheriff’s department request Saturday was Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers, who indicated that his department is currently in a “staffing crisis” due to its inability to offer current and potential officers a competitive wage when compared to many other departments in the region.
“Since 2008, we haven’t been able to keep up with the market premiums for corrections and patrol,” Rogers said. “We’re the lowest paid department in the region.”
As an example, Rogers noted that his department has lost nearly 70 employees over the past year who have left to pursue higher paying jobs elsewhere.