Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

County Council Race: Poparad: Keep taxes low, hold on to hospital money

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Democrat Robert Poparad and Republican Jim Biggs are on the ballot for the 1st District County Council seat which includes the four Duneland townships. The council has primary responsibility for the county budget. The Council also makes appointments to numerous county and regional boards and commissions.

By JEFF SCHULTZ

Local business owner Robert Poparad says he will continue his focus of keeping county spending down if he is elected to a third term on the Porter County Council in November.

Poparad, 52, is no stranger to the public sector. A resident of Burns Harbor, he has served on the Burns Harbor Town Council and also had a seat on the Porter County Plan Commission.

He has also acted as president in his previous terms on the county council, most recently in 2009.

In an interview with the Chesterton Tribune, Poparad says he believes that the county council has done a good job in keeping the county very fiscally stable. He said according a county government statistical report, Porter County ranks 68 out of the 92 counties in Indiana for money spent per-capita based on 2000 U. S. Census figures.

Retaining some of the state’s Major Moves funds from the lease of the toll road, Poparad said, is another accomplishment for the county.

Poparad wishes the county could spend less, but mentioned the county has to abide by the mandates the state legislature places on it.

Poparad takes pride in the fact he has been able to move a few budgets out of the county’s General Fund while on the council since he started in 2003. Budgets he mentioned were the county recorder’s perpetuation fund, reassessment budgets, the coroner’s budget and notably the county plan commission which now makes its money primarily through building permit fees.

He said changing the method of how these “funny funds” get their money is nothing against the officeholder or department head, but the fact the county has been able to save “millions” in taxpayer money is a strong enough reason for the funding switches.

“It’s hard to argue with logic,” said Poparad.

In addition to lowering the use of General Fund money, Poparad said he is in strong support of capping property taxes which will be voted on in a referendum this year by county voters.

“Low taxes will create economic growth and improve the quality of life,” he said. “If you don’t have any growth, it’s because tax rates are too high. Everything starts to go downhill. Businesses can’t afford to operate, and therefore, there are no jobs.”

Poparad is also a big proponent of using the nearly $9 interest money from the sale of Porter Hospital to go back to the taxpayer in the form of property tax relief. He publicly announced his suggestions shortly after the council announced they would be holding preliminary discussions of tapping into the hospital interest money now that construction is underway at the corner of U.S. 6 and Ind. 49.

Half of the interest money should be used to lower property taxes, Poparad said, and the rest should be stored in either emergency cash reserves or allowed to accumulate additional interest.

Unlike his Republican opponent in the election, former county commissioner Jim Biggs who wants to use the funds for economic growth projects, Poparad said he is only willing to spend the interest money and “never” touch the $160 million principle other than investing it.

Biggs has said the near $200 million in total funds associated with the hospital should be used to create opportunities for economic growth and said the council should have more ambition and creativity in ways it could invest the money other than giving it largely back as property tax credit.

Poparad discourages using any of the hospital funds other than keeping it in the county’s hands because he does not wish for the council to show any partiality towards any private group who may want to use the money to build their businesses or attractions.

Poparad also worries the principle would dry up should the county decide to use the money. He said divvying up the money through county tax relief is the only fair use.

“Just give it back to the taxpayers. It belongs to them. Spend the interest. Invest the principle. Everyone gets a piece of the pie. Is that that such a bad thing? Once you spend it, it’s gone.” said Poparad.

Biggs has also criticized Poparad in saying he has broken his promise in creating new taxes by voting to fund the county’s membership in the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, increasing the county income tax by .25 percent in 2005.

Poparad says his vote was to increase a current tax, not create a new one.

In 2003, Poparad was one of three council members who voted against the creation of a county income tax.

Poparad has since been one of the council’s minority of pro-RDA members, voting against leaving the RDA in 2009 and voting earlier this year not to appeal a Jasper County Circuit Court judge’s ruling that Porter County must remain a member according to a state legislature.

Meanwhile, Poparad has slammed Biggs’ wish to give more funding to the Porter County Sheriff’s Police. The county ranked ninth in the state in 2009 for the amount of money that is given to the sheriff, he said.

Poparad said it would not be right to be generous to one county department and not any others. He feels that it is the council’s job to find the balance between what officeholders such as the sheriff need to provide services versus what they would like to have.

“Everyone will tell you that they are invaluable but you have to decipher the code. That’s where experience comes in,” he said. “I believe everybody is adequately funded for their services.”

Although this year’s election could bring a few new faces to Porter County government, Poparad says he does not expect any big changes, even from the state legislature which he anticipates will not impose any new taxes.“I don’t see anything coming out of the state this year that will help county government.”

Poparad, who is the owner of Pinkerton Oil in Porter, said he feels his concerns match that of his constituents because he too has to pay taxes.

 

Posted 10/8/2010

 

 

 

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