In the general
election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Democrat incumbents Sylvia Graham, Robert
Poparad, and Dan Whitten will defend their at-large seats on the Porter
County Council against Republican challengers Travis Gearhart, Jeff Larson,
and Rich Parks. The Chesterton Tribune invited all to respond to a
set word limits for each question and reserved the right to edit responses
Voters may cast
ballots for up to three. But take note: straight-ticket votes in the Porter
County Council races will no longer count. Instead, voters must now
select each candidate they wish to elect.
(1) Age, place of
Center Township; family nurse practitioner, retired professional bass
fisherman, previous 4-H leader.
Burns Harbor; small business owner.
Porter Township; attorney with wife, Stacey Whitten, at Whitten & Whitten in
Chesterton; commercial fuel sales representative for Luke Oil.
Liberty Township, retired Chesterton High School teacher and owner of Larson
Valparaiso, president of White Peterman Properties.
(2) For Democrat
incumbents--Describe your achievements in office (125 words).
participated in passing (soon to be) eight county budgets. Some past
committee work includes HR Director selection, healthcare coverage for the
jail, county simulcast towers and radios for first responders, rules for the
Porter County Foundation, and the Lowe software tax system. I also got a
common wage passed for local workers building Porter Hospital. I have served
on the Plan Commission, Redevelopment Commission, NICTD, NIRPC, EMA, the
Jail Bond Committee, PCACS, and have been a liaison for 11 county
major accomplishment has been the establishment of a foundation for the
hospital proceeds which will serve the needs of the county for generations
to come. We also began construction on a much needed state-of-the-art animal
shelter and have continued to lower taxes for the residents of Porter County
while maintaining quality services. I am proud that during my tenure the
county’s property-tax rate has decreased for three consecutive years.
been involved in the planning and construction of the new animal shelter,
and serve on the Shelter Advisory Board. Through smart budgeting, the county
tax rate has declined over the past four years. We permanently preserved
hospital sale proceeds and became the first Indiana county to create a
foundation allowing for better investments. The first two quarters alone,
our money earned nearly $4 million, more than doubling the entire year
previous. The council voted to invest and slowly spend our Major Moves
money, resulting in Porter County being the only Indiana county able to use
these funds for the state’s matching road program. We’ve received our first
$1 million already. We’re now the most solvent county in Indiana and will
continue to be.
challengers--Describe your qualifications for office (125 words).
believe that my time on Hebron Town Council, as well as my experience
managing sales territories (which includes keeping to a budget, managing my
time and resources, etc.) makes me more than qualified for this position. In
my roles as both I have been able to find creative ways to help fill holes
in budgets and make timely, responsible decisions. One has to be able to
think on their feet, and not kick political cans down the road.
Successful business owner since 1984. Accomplished classroom leader at
Chesterton High School since 1998. As a teacher I worked with several
municipalities and Porter County organizations at paid and volunteered
positions. Past member of local Labor and Carpenter Unions. Past board
member of Porter County Park Foundation, Christmas in April, Rebuilding
Duneland, Housing Opportunities. Current board member and trustee of
Chesterton Cemetery. Current president of the Liberty Township Board.
Education includes CHS, Indiana State University, Indiana Wesleyan, and Ivy
Tech. Proud lifetime Porter County resident and part of five generations of
Parks: I am
prepared and ready to move the county forward. I believe I have an in-depth
knowledge of the financial operations of business/government. Any successful
enterprise must have accounting knowledge and practices that are the
foundation of a good fiscal operations. I know I have the fortitude to first
make tough decisions that are for the good of our county. I have the
knowledge to dig into issues that arise and learn the facts very quickly and
advise in a direction that is helpful to all. Knowledge and the ability to
advise is desperately needed on the County Council as we begin to move our
county in the future.
(3) For Democrat
incumbents--Why are you seeking re-election? (75 words)
County has a bright future and my work is not done. I want to continue to
give back to the community that has been so kind to me. I stand for good
government and fair play. I want to continue to be a voice for the people.
Poparad: I was
raised with a strong sense of civic duty and I would love to continue the
good work we have started with the foundation and to help Porter County to
continue to be a safe and prosperous place with a great quality of life for
exciting to be solvent and moving forward with quality-of-life improvements.
We’ve made great strides, but there’s more to do. We need to create and
implement planning for the millions of interest earned. I’d like to see
construction and capital investment including upgrades for our buildings and
projects like the parks, Museum, Expo, and Memorial Opera House. We need an
application process for grants to our local non-profits and possibly a
challengers--Why are you seeking election to this office? (75 words)
interest in running for council stems from my time as a 4-Her. The 4-H
mantra is “To Make the Best Better,” and I truly believe that I can do that
as the next Porter County Councilman. I want to stay involved in my
community, in whatever capacity that ends up being, and will continue to
work towards the goal of keeping this county a place where I can raise my
Larson: I want
to improve our county residents’ quality of life by being fiscally
responsible, maintaining an open-door policy in county government, meeting
constituents in every area of our county, asking those typically without a
voice how the county can better serve them, uniting the offices across all
lines, involving our young residents in programs that keep them here as
adults and exciting them about their community, providing better
infrastructure, and creating high quality jobs.
Parks: We need
new ideas and new energy to face this county’s monumental tasks. Now that
finally the Foundation has been formed after years of talking about it, the
table is set to start discussions of the new and bright future for our
citizens. We need stable and consistent decision, not knee-jerk decisions or
in-fighting that have plagued this county for too long. I am and will be
part of this new direction.
(4) In your view,
what are the biggest challenges facing the Porter County Council? (125)
County is growing. We need to ensure the safety of our residents. We must
meet the needs of our Sheriff's Department, our Highway and Maintenance
departments, and continue to address drug and rehabilitation problems.
Drainage problems exist, but are being addressed with the development of the
Stormwater Management Board. We are blessed having the Porter County
Foundation. The Foundation interest money could be used to help fund
job-growth capital projects as well as community projects in the county.
biggest obstacle we will be facing in the future is the ever increasing cost
of healthcare and the cost of doing the county’s business. Every year we
strive to maximize the tax dollars to ensure quality services without adding
additional tax burdens to the residents. This is a challenge.
the returns on our money from the foundation, county officials will be
challenged in creating and implementing a clear process for use of the
funds. This will include the construction of capital projects for Porter
County. Additionally, it will include an application process for non-profits
to request endowments from the funds. But, we should continue to think
outside the box for driving economic development such as using a portion
each year toward scholarships and educational partnering to give our youth
additional opportunities. I would encourage the County Council to continue
its conservative budgeting, to ensure county departments are living within
the respective budgets
think that the biggest challenge facing us is the ability to keep our
infrastructure sound so that we can keep Porter County a place where people
want to live and work. Without infrastructure needs being met that isn’t a
possibility. I believe that it is a quality-of-life issue, and we must make
smart financial decisions and not kick cans down the road for years. We need
people who can make up their minds, for example, when it comes to what to do
with funds from the sale of a hospital. Instead of sitting on that money, we
could have invested it earlier, starting the process and making sure that we
had funds available for necessary infrastructure needs.
a safe and welcoming community environment, preventing illegal drug use,
invest in our young people through education, create a countywide
development plan, expand outreach programs to companies around the world and
invite them to invest in our local economy, update infrastructure including
the South Shore double rail proposal, and balance budgets. Create an
efficient plan for updating all county services. Form community and business
partnerships to offset the cost of improvements in drainage, road, bridge,
parks, sewer, and water. Eliminate duplication of services. Evaluate every
department and its efficiency or lack of. Qualify realistic budgets and
operate within them. Label immediate communitywide needs and address them
promptly. Use funds available to the county i.e. grants, previous taxes, and
biggest challenge facing the County Council today will be convincing the
various departments in county government that we need to find more efficient
ways to run departments. The status quo is very alive and real and will take
the financial arm of local government to enact changes towards efficiencies
and trying to reduce the deficient spending we currently experience and get
the County back in the black. We need to discuss incentives with departments
that do give money back to the general fund to assist in reducing our
deficit. The current process in place does not reward creative thinking in
reducing operating costs. The County Council sets the direction for this to
(5) The Porter
County Commissioners recently heard of switching to a statewide intermobile
emergency communication system for County 911 Center and local police, fire,
and EMS. The county would have to make an investment worth $9.8 million for
the equipment, but the state has agreed to cover the costs of systems
upgrades for the next 20 years. Do you think the county should take action
on this plan? If so, how would you recommend funding it and do you think the
municipalities should contribute? (75 words).
upgrades needed for our first responders are a priority. The Foundation
interest money might be a source for funding this project. Communication
with our state legislators should begin immediately to ensure that state
funding for this project will not end in 20 years. Local governments pay tax
money to the state. The state must remain a partner in this expensive
project, along with the cities and towns in the county.
have not been presented with any information regarding 911. We do look
forward to productive dialogue with the Commissioners and any stakeholders
involved in this process. Unfortunately, I can’t answer this question
without more information.
safety is paramount and an essential priority. We need to look toward
state-of-the-art tools for our public safety employees. However, I do
believe that the cities and towns should contribute a pro-rata share toward
absolutely believe that the county must invest in the intermobile emergency
communication system for our 911 system and police and fire departments.
Public safety must remain a top priority for our county and for our
citizens. I would certainly look at all funding opportunities and want to
work very closely with our municipal partners in achieving a true funding
solution to cover the costs.
should purchase the equipment immediately. The current system is struggling
and outdated. We risk the chance of dropping or losing emergency calls.
LaPorte County is already installing the system. Porter County should fund
the infrastructure. The amount of personnel hardware and costs should be the
responsibility of each municipality or department to finance. Township
volunteer departments will need additional funding and we can look at many
creative ways to help finance their needs.
support opting into the State of Indiana’s 911 system. The Commissioners are
gathering data to present to the Council with the options for discussion. I
support the concept that municipalities should contribute a portion of this
investment but fairly and equitably. I do not support the notion of a county
public-safety tax. A collaborative effort between all parties will
accomplish the task at hand.
(6) Should the
Porter County Council hear and/or enact the shelved Jobs Cabinet plan? Are
there other actions the Council can take to encourage local economic growth?
Jobs Cabinet never came before the council. Will this add another layer of
government? I support the Porter County Alliance and Economic Development. I
voted to build the animal shelter. I supported the new airport runways and
expansion. I am in favor of building the South County Park, as well as the
“Raise the Barn” project at Sunset Hills. It was reported, in three months,
$1.56 million of interest has accrued from the Porter County Foundation. The
Foundation will be a game changer for creating jobs.
would love to hear the Jobs Cabinet report; however, it has never been
reported to the council. I encourage any discussion that will encourage
economic development in the county.
Whitten: I was
not aware that it had been “shelved.” The council can and has been willing
to hear the jobs cabinet report. The council and County Commissioners should
entertain all discussions that might brainstorm toward the creation of jobs
and economic growth. Capital projects being done by the county, the airport
improvements, construction of county buildings, all create jobs. Renovating
drainage problems, improving public safety, lowering tax rates, and
improving venues such as the Opera House, Museum and Expo Center improve
Porter County’s quality of life, which brings and keeps families in our
county and therefore leads to increased jobs.
myself, I’ve always believed our top priority has to be economic
development. This issue is right up there with public safety. Good-paying
jobs in our county are key to keep this the wonderful place it is to live
and raise your family. I believe that we should use all the tools at hand,
including the jobs cabinet report, as well as working with our municipal
partners to achieve a common goal of bringing good-paying jobs to Porter
Jobs Cabinet was created as an advisory arm to county government. The
current council refused to hear the report and failed to take any advice or
enact policy that would have benefited the county directly from research
that was completed. All such community liaisons have enormous value looking
at the community as a whole. The council has a duty and responsibility to
its citizens to hear all information available. Several areas for
improvement were mentioned in the report. A large issue was collaboration
between elected officials. A countywide development plan. Creative project
funding including infrastructure.
Parks: The Jobs
Cabinet Study has aged in time and really had no direct input from the
County Council or Commissioners. I believe with the long overdue formation
of the Foundation, the Council and Commissioners can start the discussions
needed to create a new direction with these new moneys to help the county in
whatever direction agreed upon by these two bodies.
(7) The Porter
County Council and Board of Commissioners have invested proceeds of the
Porter Memorial Hospital into a community foundation endowment fund.
Proceeds generated from this fund could be large enough to help county
officials afford large capital projects, help fund public safety and other
areas of county government. What are your priorities for this fund? (125
Graham: Some of
my priorities include that the Porter County Foundation interest funds be
used on county projects that will improve the safety of our county, promote
job growth and economic development. The south county park is a project that
will not only bring a park to south county, but will facilitate the East
Porter Schools with their school sports activities. This is an example how
our quality of life will continue to improve in Porter County. Anything
above a 5-percent yearly interest earnings from the Foundation proceeds
should be returned to the Foundation endowment fund, creating perpetual
growth. We must be open-minded to new thoughts, but remain frugal.
Capital projects and the non-for-profits would be my top priorities when
discussing how these proceeds should be utilized. For example, Raising the
Barn at the Park is a great example of a quality capital project that the
proceeds could help fund.
Whitten: We hit
the ground running on the foundation. It was created, by-laws written,
investment consultants interviewed and selected, and money invested all
within months. As such, we’ve earned more in the last quarter than
previously would have been available in an entire year. A priority is
updating our county facilities, including government buildings, and
improvements to our venues, including the Memorial Opera House, County
Museum and Expo Center. We must also invest into public safety. We purchased
land for a south county park. So along those lines, improving the parks for
our Porter County families to enjoy is a priority as well. Basically, that
the money should be used toward the improvement of quality of life and
reduce taxes within our county.
Investing the proceeds of the hospital sale into an endowment is the best
thing for our county in the long run. I believe the moneys, interest earned,
will be a great help in funding much needed infrastructure repairs on county
owned facilities. My personal priorities are to balance our operations
budget and use the interest earned from the endowment to fund infrastructure
repair of county-owned facilities, provide funding for capital projects that
provide for economic development that bring good-paying jobs and facilities
that make living in Porter County even better than it already is.
forming of the foundation was long overdue. The fact that it took almost
nine years to create a mechanism to oversee the funds cost the taxpayers
millions of dollars in delayed project funding. The money belongs to the
residents and should be used with the greatest impact to specifically
benefit them. With the current council, the money invested has been used as
a rainy day fund. The foundation has a responsibility to vet each investment
opportunity. It should not be used for budgetary makeup. The foundation
should rate each opportunity on a scale of community benefit. Large scale
projects should seek voter approval. Public safety and infrastructure are
top priorities. Porter County residents have waited too long to reap the
benefits of these funds.
believe we first need to look at all county assets and evaluate and upgrade
where appropriate. When doing this, we need to be cautious and keep in mind
that the operating budget of the upgraded facilities will bring operational
cost savings which year over year are the biggest liability the county will
face. This in itself will be a large task as so many of our buildings need
attention. I understand that the many of the departments and other
government units have eyes on this money, we need to make sure the county is
taken care of first. Once these issues are dealt with, then other
discussions can take place to expand out help as needed and as the County
Foundation sees fit.
(8) Would you
suggest any changes to the way the council conducts its budgeting processes?
statue dictates much of our budgeting process. New steps have been taken to
improve the process with the auditor initiating internal control budgeting
classes with all county departments. Technology is constantly improving.
Transparency in county government is a must and the council must remain
flexible to change.
Poparad: No. I
have sat through years of budgets and the current system in place is very
transparent and gives ample opportunity for both department head and public
input. We always welcome and encourage public participation in these open
conservative council budgeting has resulted in lowering the county tax rate
and living within budgets. Additionally, we have managed to preserve reserve
funds received from Major Moves. As such, the county was able to obtain the
$1 million matching money from the state to be used in paving of county
roads and highways. Our budgeting process has been working very effectively.
Gearhart: As a
former Town of Hebron councilman, I understand and appreciate the budgeting
process. As anything, looking for synergies, efficiencies, and better
processes is of the utmost importance and I look forward, should I be
elected, to working with the other members of the council to find those
synergies and efficiencies that make budgeting easier and more transparent.
Eliminate mid-year borrowing. Council should mandate a review of every
department and require a full disclosure of services provided by each. All
departments should work unilaterally to combine resources and material
request thus avoiding duplication errors. Department heads will review
staffing requirements and alternative employee scheduling. Departments will
disclose sources of additional funding and all funding should be included in
the common budget. Data-driven department surveys combined with community
input will provide final appropriations.
Parks: We need
more detailed budget workshops to ensure a “deep dive” is taken every year
and any waste cut. This way real discussions can take place without so much
uncertainty about budget approval. Several budgets don’t need a “deep dive,”
but the bigger departments do. The implementation of new accounting software
in 2017 will give us the tools to track and analyze costs in real time.