Chesterton Tribune



Jeff Chidester: Priorities include County health insurance fix, drainage, election reform

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Jim Biggs: Planning and experience will propel Porter County forward



Someone who has worked hard for years to get candidates elected is on the ballot himself in this November’s general election. Portage Twp. resident Jeff Chidester faces current County Council member Republican Jim Biggs.

Chidester, a Democrat, said he pledges to become a full-time commissioner after he retires next year as the financial secretary and treasurer for Ironworkers Local 395.

“I want to give back to the community and do something in public service,” Chidester said in an interview with the Chesterton Tribune.

Although he has not held elected office, Chidester, 63, is known in Porter County as the chairperson of the Democratic Central Committee. He has worked on many campaigns but this is the first of his own.

Chidester grew up in Lake County and served on the Lake County Plan Commission and the City of Hobart’s Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals years ago. He made the move to Porter County about 13 years ago and has been a resident since.

Chidester represented the County for a short time on the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority, appointed by fellow Democrats and former County Commissioners Bob Harper and Carole Knoblock.

Health Insurance/Budget

While there are other elected offices that he could pursue, Chidester said he feels he is best suited for Commissioner because of his 20 years of financially managing the Ironworkers Union budget which consists of $672 million, 4,500 pensions and health plans across three states. He has been a member of the Union for 45 years.

He is interested in improving the County’s employee health plan which makes up a significant portion of the General Fund, costing as much as $9 million annually. While he is pleased to see a savings being earned with reference-based pricing in the plan, Chidester said it has limitations on where employees can go get the treatment they want.

He hopes the Commissioners can merge the current plan with another that would give more options while remaining cost-efficient.

“If we can’t offer our employees the highest salaries, we should at least give them a decent health care and pension plan,” said Chidester.

The plan should also work to educate employees about their health as a way to encourage them to take part in the wellness program and minimize the number of claims. The plan should include incentives such as lower co-pays for wellness participants, Chidester said.


Another goal for Chidester, if elected, would be to get started right away on remediating all major drainage problems in the county. The Stormwater Drainage Board began this year with fixing ditch problems using the revenues collected from the new stormwater fee, more than $3 million. Chidester said he would prefer to bond for projects, making more funds available, and then give local contractors a chance to bid on the work.

The more quickly drainage projects can get done, the better opportunities Porter County will have for economic development, Chidester said. Farmers will have more tillable land and yield higher profits on crops and businesses will have better infrastructure. “At the end of the day, it creates jobs,” said Chidester.

The bonds can be paid off with what the County brings in from its stormwater fee, he said.

Voting process

Chidester said he would like to move further with the study on County facilities and wishes to build on to the Administration Building in the courtyard area accessible from the lower level near the Health Department and Voters Registration office. There could be a permanent room for early voting so it would no longer have to be “in a broom closet,” and voting equipment could be stored there too instead of where it is now in an area sitting off of the parking garage.

Elections are something Chidester said he takes seriously and as a Commissioner, he would propose a committee made up County Election Board members, directors of the Voters Registration office, a Commissioner and a County Council member, to work together on what’s the most agreeable for voting equipment and the election process. Chidester has been an opponent of the Election Board’s decision to purchase e-poll books which other Democrats blamed for difficulties in the 2015 municipal election.

Some politicians have rallied around consolidating voting centers as a way to make voting more efficient. Chidester said he’d rather keep the system with precinct locations and argues the way elections are held should not be based on “dollars and cents.”

“There is no price you can put on democracy, in my opinion,” Chidester said.

Foundation fund

If he becomes a Commissioner, Chidester would be on the trustee board for the Porter County Government Nonprofit Charitable Foundation along with the other two Commissioners and seven County Council members. The Foundation is an endowment fund holding the proceeds from the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital and is expected to generate about $4 million in interest a year. The trustees will determine how the interest is spent.

Chidester said he thinks the interest would be best used to bridge funding gaps in the County’s operating budget, particularly those for public safety and to support the Sheriff’s Police pension fund.

“Let’s get that taken care of and fix these things first,” he said.

If there is money left over, Chidester said he would want the money to be used to make Porter County more attractive to new businesses, capitalizing on the county’s proximity to Chicago and having the Indiana Dunes as a tourism anchor.

View on TIFs

One way governments can encourage redevelopment is by creating tax increment financing districts that can pay for infrastructure improvements, by capturing tax revenues from new commercial development. Chidester said he sees TIF districts as one “tool” for development and doesn’t “rule them out” but feels they should not divert funds away from schools or push assessed valuations closer to state tax caps.

Gun range

Chidester said he is in favor of opening a gun range for the Sheriff’s Police and other police departments in the county. The agencies would need to decide a location. The County could pay for the materials and the labor could be donated, Chidester said.


Chidester said he would like to see more people involved in government and would like to see the Commissioner meetings be held in the evening rather than the afternoon. That would continue the County’s efforts to being more transparent, something he feels should be a priority. All contracts beyond a minimal level should be put out to bid, he said, including the ambulance contract the County currently has with Porter Regional Hospital. “We should bid everything out, any project that has assorted contracts. The more transparent you make government, the more faith you have from residents,” said Chidester.

Chidester said he will be an impartial commissioner, although he has no intention of giving up his post as chief of the county’s Democrat party. He is also the first district chairman for the Indiana Democratic Party. Holding those positions has been an advantage for him, he said, having the experience of working with many other officials.

“I will be fair and bipartisan, or else we would never get anything done,” Chidester said. “I will work with both of the other commissioners (Democrat Laura Blaney and Republican Jeff Good), and at the end of the day, I hope we get something done for the people of Porter County.”


Chidester has been endorsed by the Northwest Indiana Building Trades and Construction Trades Council, the Portage Firefighters Union and the Northern Indiana Area Labor Federation.




Posted 10/18/2016




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