On Tuesday, May 3,
Republicans Jim Biggs, John Cannon, and Jeff Trout will vie for their
party’s nomination to the North County seat on the Porter County Board of
Commissioners, currently held by the retiring John Evans.
Tribune invited Biggs, Cannon, and Trout to respond to a questionnaire.
reserved the right to edit the responses for length.
(1) Age, place of
Chesterton; director of loss prevention and safety, Fagen Pharmacies.
Portage; store manager, O’Reilly Automotive.
Chesterton; co--owner, Trout Mirror & Glass.
(2) What are your
qualifications for office? (100 words)
County Board of Commissioners, 1992--99. Porter County Council, 2011 to
present. Northwest Indiana District President of the Indiana Association of
County Commissioners, 1997--99. Seats on various other county and district
boards. Master of Science degree in public safety administration. Bachelor
of Science degree in law enforcement management.
manager for more than 28 years. Portage City Council member since 2011.
Portage Redevelopment Commission member since 2013.
years of public service including the Chesterton Plan Commission, BZA,
Redevelopment Commission, and seven years on the Chesterton Town Council. As
a member of the Chesterton Town Council, I served on a body that was both
the executive and fiscal branches of government. Like the Board of
Commissioners, the Town Council is directly responsible for the day--to--day
operations of the town, including the Street Department, Police Department,
sanitation and sewers, and economic development. I have the proven ability
to successfully work together with others to prioritize needs, reach
consensus, and achieve common goals.
(3) Why are you
running for County Commissioner? (100 words)
more than any other elected office in county government, the Board of
Commissioners is expected to set the standards of how county government is
to operate and what benchmarks it needs to achieve. If done with compassion,
and professional and ethical standards, I have seen firsthand the good the
Board of County Commissioners can have on the overall quality of life here
in our county. These are the reasons I have decided to run for this office.
believe it is time for a change in direction for our county government. The
county needs a Commissioner that can bring all sides together. I have
learned a great deal in doing this in Portage. While in the minority party,
I learned to work across political lines to get things accomplished for my
district and the city. With the retirement of the current Commissioner, this
is the time for a new face in county government. It is time for someone that
has the leadership qualities that can bridge the gap that will allow all
sides to be heard.
groundwork has been laid for Porter County to see dramatic improvements over
the next few years, including over $20 million in drainage projects and
millions of dollars in road and bridge repairs. The implementation of those
planned improvements requires someone with a steady hand and proven
experience in project management and fiscal discipline. Because of my
successful tenure on the Chesterton Plan Commission, BZA, Redevelopment
Commission and Town Council, I can hit the ground running on my first day of
office with every one of these important projects.
(4) What in your
view are the main issues in this race? (125 words)
believe the biggest concern is balancing revenue decline with demand for
services. County government must extend its planning horizons beyond one
year. Our county’s ability to address future growth, crime, economic
development, technology and innovation, maintenance and repairs to county
buildings and roads, or swiftly respond to an extreme event, greatly depends
on our ability to plan smarter and more long--term.
The popular answer
is simply expand our commercial base to address the issue of declining
revenue. Expanding our commercial tax base by attracting new businesses is
only one part of the answer. The most significant and immediate action that
we can take is to address those things which we already know are directly or
indirectly contributing to the challenge.
jobs, hospital funds usage, infrastructure (drainage, roads, and buildings).
and one of the most basic responsibilities of county government, is
infrastructure needs, including drainage, roads, and bridges. This will have
a significant, positive impact on our residents and quality of life. Second,
keeping property taxes low. Through investment of $147 million dollars
through a government administered foundation, we can generate a higher
return to offset budget shortfalls from property tax caps. This will assure
that property taxes remain low. Third, supporting and finding increased
funding for proven programs in our law enforcement and judicial systems to
address the substance abuse problem, specifically the undercover narcotics
unit, the drug courts, and drug treatment programs at the jail. Finally, to
continue the expansion of economic development around Porter Hospital and
the Porter County Airport.
(5) What is your
strategy for drainage issues? The new mandatory fee hits all property owners
in unincorporated Porter County regardless of their contribution or
vulnerability to drainage problems. Should conservation organizations and
other property owners who are helping to store runoff in wetlands be exempt
from the fee? (100 words)
County’s stormwater drainage system encompasses every square mile of
unincorporated area, so it will take a county--wide effort to address this
issue responsibly. I believe that a fee exemption should be available to
property owners who can clearly demonstrate that their land is not
contributing to the problem.
stormwater issues directly benefits our homes, roads, and businesses.
Putting off repairing it only makes the problem larger and more expensive to
address. The current Board of Commissioners has already taken steps to
address this issue, and the county is well on its way to implementing the
credits are an option that should be on the table.
county has previously identified over $20 million dollars in critical
drainage projects. That list needs to be updated and prioritized, and should
serve as the roadmap for improvements as funding is available. As
Commissioner, I would serve on the Stormwater Board, which is accountable
for their implementation and requires understanding of drainage,
engineering, project management, and fiscal discipline to assure successful
results. My experience on the Chesterton Town Council, Plan Commission, BZA,
and Redevelopment Commission has given me the “hands on” experience and
proven track record. I would support exempting or reducing the fee for
conservation organizations and property owners who contribute to runoff
storage, on a case--by--case basis, through the appeals process already
established by the Stormwater Board.
(6) Would you make
any changes to the county’s employee healthcare plan? Do you support
wellness programs as a way to reduce the cost? (100 words)
costs associated to the county’s health insurance plan run into the millions
of dollars each year. County government has always been self--insured.
Because of this, we are exposed at a much higher risk in the event that more
claims than expected need to be paid. This is why it is paramount that this
plan be aggressively managed. The employee wellness program has always had
very anemic participation levels. It is for this reason, and other factors,
that the Commissioners need to consider replacing it with a program that may
produce better results, or discontinue the program altogether.
change is needed at this point. Health wellness programs are best.
county has made progress in reducing healthcare costs with the new
Referenced Based Reimbursement program, already saving over $1 million this
year, if not more. This model requires constant monitoring to assure
continued success. Wellness programs are critical in reducing costs.
Currently, only about a third of employees are participating in wellness
programs. The data from those who are participating reflect issues that
could increase costs relating to hypertension, pre--diabetes, high blood
pressure, and cardiac problems. Unless participation increases, I would
support the implementation of higher premiums and deductibles for those who
do not participate.
Commissioners have agreed with the County Council to invest proceeds from
the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital in a foundation endowment fund.
Proposed uses of the proceeds from the fund include a new animal shelter, a
Sunset Hill Park activity center, and other capital projects. What are your
priorities for the fund? (125 words)
priorities for the foundation endowment fund are to protect the
$150--million principal from ever being spent down. Whatever benefits are
derived from the investment proceeds should not be disbursed until the
county has officially identified suitable long--term funding sources for our
E--911 dispatching system, and the Sheriff’s Department pension plan.
Our County Council
and the Board of Commissioners made the absolute best decision to ensure
that this money will be here for the benefit of future generations. Their
decision provides assurances that our county is not likely to ever be
anything but financially solvent.
County hospital funds. . . There must be a fiscal plan to tackle three
Infrastructure issues: roads, building maintenance, and drainage. A study
must be conducted. The study must conclude two things: (1) Cost of the needs
in year one, then a plan for the upkeep of the plan for the next 10 years;
(2) How much interest off the funds can be generated each year. After
concluding the study, If the funds do not match up with the needs then a new
plan of action will need to be researched. Possibility of principle of funds
be used for the year one of the fiscal plan.
If the funds do
match the needs, a budget must be adhered to.
Trout: Let’s be
clear. At this point in time, the investment process has not even begun.
There is no reliable track record on what the actual return is going to be.
To make spending commitments for money that doesn’t yet exist is neither
prudent nor fiscally responsible. For the first few years, I believe the
investment return that is generated should be used to shore up the budget
shortfalls which have resulted from the property tax caps. During that time,
while we establish a reliable track record based on the actual return on
investment, we must formulate a prioritized capital expenditure plan based
on that track record.
Commissioners make five appointments to the Porter County Convention,
Recreation, and Visitor Commission (PCCRVC)----commonly referred to as the
Tourism Board----which in turn spends the proceeds from the innkeeper’s tax.
Do you share the PCCRVC’s priorities, including its support of Pavilion
Partners’ proposed banquet center at Indiana Dunes State Park? What changes,
if any, should be made in how the innkeeper’s tax is spent? (150 words)
county’s Alcohol Beverage Commission voted twice to deny the license to sell
alcohol at the Dunes Park. In addition, approximately 10,000 residents
signed a petition opposing the idea.
importance that most of our residents place on the Dunes, the PCCRVC should
have expected this degree of angst for a project of this type. The fact that
one of their own board members is a key investor in the Pavilion Partners
group should have dissuaded the PCCRVC from ever taking official board
action to endorse this project. It is not the role of the PCCRVC to endorse
a proposed business. If it is, then someone needs to explain to our existing
businesses why this same benefit was never being afforded to them.
As with all county
tax moneys, the County Council should continue to keep a close eye on how
the innkeeper’s tax is being disbursed.
Board is a vital way of promoting the greatness of Porter County. Promotion
of our beauty and promise is very important. I do support the Pavilion
Partners’ proposed banquet center. The innkeeper’s tax could be split up for
the municipality use as well. Fifty percent each year should go to the
County Tourism Board, 50 percent should go to the municipalities that
collect the tax in that portion amount. The funds must only be used for
PCCRVC is the primary driver for the continued expansion of the county’s
$386 million tourism industry, which supports almost 5,000 local jobs. I
understand the concerns about their support of the Pavilion Partners
project, and absolutely support the rights of those who are opposed to the
project to express those concerns. But PCCRVC’s track record of
year--over--year gains in out--of--county visitors, and increased spending
in our local communities by those visitors, is indisputable. I do support
the one--time increased marketing allocations this year to the Expo Center,
Museum, Opera House, and Parks, because that will help draw more tourism
dollars “beyond the Dunes.” Requiring wholesale changes to the PCCRVC
allocations and priorities, which have been so tremendously successful,
could cause irreparable harm to our growing tourism industry.
(9) Do you support
the creation of tax increment financing (TIF) districts in unincorporated
Porter County? What is your philosophy regarding the diversion of TIF
revenues from other governmental units? What limits, if any, should be put
on the use of public funds to directly assist private developers? (150
use of TIF districts can have a positive effect toward the support of
economic development if managed sensibly. However, I think that there are
other more proven methods of encouraging new businesses to locate to a
county, such as well--maintained roads, bridges, great schools, low crime
rates, well--maintained parks, as well as other assets that help define the
quality of life in any community.
legitimate reasons for offering incentives to businesses. But not if those
incentives are being diverted from local units of government. New
opportunities will present themselves as long as we continually support and
care for what we already have here, and engage in only those opportunities
which are clearly in our county’s best interest to pursue.
districts have been very successful for our cities. For example many areas
of the county do not have street lights. A TIF district would help in this
case. I would be in favor of a five--year TIF to spur economic growth. The
diversion of funds from other units could be supplemented back to those
units from the TIF.
districts can be a useful tool in promoting economic development when used
correctly. In most cases, they should be limited to direct infrastructure
development or improvement within the district that is necessary to attract
or retain businesses, not ones that are wide ranging in scope and often
serve as a “slush fund” for uncontrolled spending. To the extent possible
under state law, TIF districts should not divert property tax dollars from
schools, township governments, or fire departments. A prime example of what
I consider a proper TIF district is the one that I helped establish to
attract Urschel Laboratories to Chesterton. Likewise, tax abatements for
private businesses should be the tool of last resort and only when it is
absolutely necessary to retain or attract desired businesses that will have
a substantial impact in retaining or creating sustainable, livable wage