Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

County Council Race: Biggs: Economic projects will grow county's tax base

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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

With ten years of being out of the ring, Jim Biggs says he is ready to return to public service, seeking more creative ways of running government in order to strengthen Porter County’s economic base.

Biggs formally served as the North District’s County Commissioner from 1993 to 2000 and passed on running a third term in order to focus on career and family. He is now incumbent County Council member Robert Poparad’s Republican challenger in the county’s general election on Nov. 2.

In an interview with the Chesterton Tribune, Biggs emphasized the need to grow the county’s economy by “smarter” methods of investing.

He feels the county is fortunate to have the almost $200 million in proceeds and other monies connected from the sale of Porter Hospital, but said the current council has been “irresponsible” for not holding discussions sooner on what is to be done with it.

Biggs disagreed with Poparad’s public suggestion that the hospital money should be used for property tax relief, believing that most county residents wouldn’t even notice a difference.

“That (money) could be a difference maker for the county, but it has to be invested properly. It has to create jobs and create revenue for the county,” he said.

With the state possibly capping property taxes in this year’s referendum, Biggs anticipates the state would then need to increase income taxes and/or sales tax in order to make up the difference if the economy does not pick up.

He believes that both the state and the national funds will dry up significantly in the 24 months and not be able to continue unless they draw more funds from income taxes.

Without a strong tax base, Biggs said, it will be difficult for county government to have the ability to deliver services. He said the county cannot afford to make such “mistakes” as delayed property tax billing that costs the county and other local governments money. He said feels the council, including his opponent, should take more blame for the late tax bills.

“If there is not an organized effort by local agencies to work together and think creatively, we’re going to flounder. We’re going to struggle like never before.” said Biggs.

Biggs said the council has been frugal over the past two years by telling county employees they won’t be receiving any raises, but he has his own definition for “tightening the belt,” an expression used frequently by some council members. “It means doing things smarter and more efficiently,” he said.

Biggs is a strong proponent of hiring the brightest and most ambitious employees even if it means increasing those salaries to retain them.

Two departments Biggs would like to give more money to, if elected, are the Sheriff’s Department and the Highway Department. Biggs, who currently works for a national security company as an accounts manager, said the local government’s first and foremost responsibility is the health and safety of its residents.

“We should pay our police officers well. At the same time, we should expect a lot from them. Same goes for highway workers.”

Biggs said there is a “legitimate” reason that additional revenue be given to repair infrastructure on county right-of-ways. With better roads, the county could attract better business, help people get to work and school, and improve travel for emergency vehicles and safety in general.

As council member, Biggs would also like to see the third pod of the county jail be opened.

Another change he would like to see with the council is for members to do their homework ahead of time and visit departments on a regular basis, which was what he preached as a county commissioner. He feels the diligence in talking to employees will cut down on arguing that can go on during council meetings.

“You cannot manage Porter County finance if you don’t get into each and every office under jurisdictional authority,” he said.

Apart from talking to employees, Biggs will hold district meetings inviting his constituents and seek their input on items affecting them.

He feels the issue of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority could have been handled better if the county and the lawmakers gave more opportunity for public input.

Biggs said he would be willing to work with the RDA in seeking out the best ways to invest taxpayer money, but agrees with the council’s argument that the legislation creating the RDA was special legislation and the lawmakers should have given the public more opportunities to voice opinions for or against.

Further ideas for saving money, Biggs proposes the county approach local governments within the county to share services and maintenance costs for materials such as asphalt and salt. He is also seriously considering cutting down the county work week from five to four days to achieve a better work product, an example of his advocacy of thinking outside-the-box.

Biggs criticizes Poparad for “ignoring” his pledge that he would not enact new taxes while in office and argues that Poparad voted to double the income tax with the creation of the RDA. Biggs said he would never make the promise of no tax hikes in a time when things are changing rapidly. “I’d rather be a fool than a liar.”

Poparad acknowledges that he did vote to raise the tax to fund the RDA in 2005 from .25 to .5 percent, but says he has kept his promise because it was not a new tax.

Biggs said the taxpayer doesn’t care about which “pocket” the money comes from, but what he or she cares about is how the county is going to manage that money.

“They want to see results. They want accountability.”

When asked what he believes the biggest issue facing the county is, Biggs said quality of life in Porter County.

Biggs lives in Chesterton and is a lifelong resident of Porter County. His great-grandfather was the first Liberty Twp. trustee.

He said he would like to see some turnover in the results of the Nov. 2 election, believing that bringing people in with new ideas and energies periodically can be a healthy thing for the county.

 

Posted 10/8/2010

 

 

 

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