Porter County will
elect a new North District County Commissioner for the next four years as
Republican Jim Biggs will vie with Democrat Jeff Chidester on Election Day,
Tuesday, Nov. 8.
In an interview
with the Chesterton Tribune, Biggs said he is eager to work as a team
with the two holdover members of the Board of Commissioners -- Jeff Good,
R-Center, and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South -- to continue progress in county
set the benchmark for how County government should operate and in doing so,
they can enhance the quality of life for the communities, he said.
Biggs, 59, is in
his sixth consecutive year as the first district representative on the
County Council, where he has represented Duneland since 2011.
A lifelong county
resident, he resides in Chesterton and works as director of loss prevention
and safety at Fagen Pharmacy and is president of Verify LLC Drug Testing.
previously as North County Commissioner for two terms in 1992 to 1999. A few
of his accomplishments then were helping to create a comprehensive employee
manual, initiating the first spending practice policy for Porter County
government, providing oversight to the completion of the Juvenile Detention
Center, renovation of the old courthouse and he was instrumental in building
the new jail and the creation of the Twin Creeks conservancy district.
When Biggs decided
to not to rund for a third term in 2000, John Evans took over as North
District Commissioner and has held the seat since.
Evans has decided
not to run for a fifth term.
Plan for foundation
If elected, Biggs
said he intends to move ahead with a five-year comprehensive operations
plan, addressing the needs of County Government and what’s in store for its
future. “Each year government becomes more expensive to operate and we have
to think out of the box. We have to think smarter and more long term,” he
Biggs said an
operations plan is more critical than ever with the County generating an
extra $3 million to $5 million per year in interest from the non-profit
charitable foundation, set up by the Council and the Commissioners to invest
$148 million of the sale proceeds from Porter Memorial Hospital.
In order to use the
interest money, there will need to be a consensus from both the
Commissioners and the Council.
Biggs said he
believes that both bodies should have discussions on possible uses for the
money by the end of this year and generate a list. If there are any new
Council members elected in November, they should also have the chance to
weigh in at the start of next year, he said.
On his wish list,
Biggs said he would like to plan for major improvements to the front
entryway of the County Administration Center in Valparaiso. The concrete
needs to be replaced, he said, as it has “been an eyesore for some time
now.” The new design should be safer, less expensive to maintain and be
upgraded to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, he said.
With the County
enacting a stormwater user fee to fund drainage projects countywide, the
county income tax funds that traditionally had been used for drainage can
now be appropriated for improvements to County venues in bad need of them,
Further in the
future, Biggs said he would like to see the County 911 Center be moved to a
location of its own and free up more space in the County Jail building where
it is now.
“This is why a
comprehensive plan is so needed,” Biggs said. “If we can plan for these
things now, we can have better government and more ways to subsidize
programs for services like Porter-Starke which has an increasing demand for
treatments. We can meet growing needs in this county.”
Biggs said he would
like to see the majority of the Foundation money go toward quality of life
in the county. It would be na•ve, however, to say that the money would be
used to operate government, he said
have been discussed as a potential use by some County officials, such as the
educational center at Sunset Hill Farm County Park. Biggs said he supports
the project, adding that it would be “an absolute boon for the County
Parks,” but asserts that if the Park Board wants to make building the center
a priority, it should take a look at its inventory and properties and decide
what it should eliminate to free up more funding for it. Construction costs
are estimated at $3 million.
“If that’s the
thing they want the most, they have to plan it,” he said.
The best thing the
County can do is use the Foundation in a way that keeps it from having to
create new tax revenue. He also said he’s in favor of having money available
that can be loaned out to local governments and school districts at low
interest rates, pointing out that Valparaiso Schools, the Town of Chesterton
and the City of Portage have all borrowed money.
By having the
ability to let schools borrow money, the Commissioners can help the county
grow by attracting residents and businesses with properly funded schools,
which is something they look for when locating, Biggs said. If the County
ever started a tax increment finance (TIF) district of its own, such as one
discussed for U.S. 6 near the hospital in Liberty Twp., Biggs said it should
be done in a way that it won’t drain resources away from schools.
Tax incentives are
“one of dozens of options” the County can use to bring new businesses to the
county, Biggs said.
As for the inner
workings of the Commissioners’ Office, Biggs said he’s been pleased see the
current board become more transparent over the last two years and the
progress made by forming the Human Resources department which has aided in
worker’s policy. The County has been able to bring in more qualified people,
important for elected County officials, Biggs said, and that is something
that has also improved recently. Biggs recalls a year or so ago when the
Commissioners and Council were in “a tug-of-war” over the health insurance
plan for County employees.
Commissioners taking the health plan in a new direction as was urged by some
Council members, the County has been able to lower the budget for insurance
and the savings continue, Biggs said.
Biggs agrees that
to help keep costs down, insurance service agreements should be put to bid
at least every two or three years.
conservancy districts is also key to helping the County with drainage
projects, Biggs said, giving Twin Creeks Conservancy District as an example
to fix flooding problems in South Haven.
For the County’s
ambulance services contract, communication among officials is vital for the
future of that contract with the recent news that Community Health Systems
has plans to sell Porter Regional Hospital. The County is currently in a
five-year contract with Porter.
“To be a great
commissioner, you have to be patient. You have to be a good listener. And
you need to own a good pair of rubber boots,” said Biggs.
Biggs said that
unlike his opponent Chidester who has never been a Commissioner or County
Council member, his experience on both boards will give him the benefit of
not having to go through a long learning curve and he will be “ready to
serve from Day 1.”
Biggs has been
endorsed by Operating Engineers Local 150 and the Porter County Farm Bureau.