Chesterton Tribune

Biggs and Evans face off in GOP Commissioner primary

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

In the upcoming May 8 primary election, 1st District County Councilman Jim Biggs will vie for the Republican nomination for the North County Commissioner seat against incumbent Commissioner John Evans.

Commissioner races are voted on countywide. Early voting began April 9.

Evans is running for his fourth consecutive term, having first been elected to the office in 2000. He has served as president of the board of commissioners since 2011.

Biggs served two previous terms as North County Commissioner starting in 1993. He returned to politics when he was elected to the county council in 2010.

The Chesterton Tribune invited both candidates to respond to a questionnaire.

The Tribune set word limits for each question and reserved the right to edit for length.

(1) Age, place of residence, occupation

Biggs: 54, Chesterton, National Director of Accounts for SEB Security Services

Evans: 62, Chesterton, Edmonds and Evans Funeral Director and County Commissioner

(2) Describe the legislative duties or responsibilities of a Porter County Commissioner. (75 words)

Biggs: The County Commissioners are responsible for: providing traffic control, granting vacation pay, sick leave, paid holidays to county employees, administering elections with the county election board, auditing and authorizing claims against the county, receiving bids, authorizing contracts, maintaining county property including courthouses, jails, and public offices, supervising the construction and maintenance of all county roads and bridges, serve on the county board of finance, and enact ordinances and resolutions as established by state law.

Evans: The commissioners are the executive branch of county government, much like the mayors in cities. The Commissioners are responsible for roads, drainage, and bridges (all bridges in the county, including those within city or town limits). They are also responsible for all contracts entered into by the county, planning and zoning, all ordinances, maintenance and repair of all county owned buildings. The Commissioners oversee all county departments; Highway, Information Technology, E 911, amongst others.

(3)To Biggs: What are your qualifications for this office? To Evans: Describe your accomplishments in office. (75 words)

Biggs: I currently serve as the 1st District Representative on the Porter County Council. I was also elected to the Porter County Board of Commissioners in 1992, and again in 1996. As I promised to do when I initially ran for this office, I did not run for a third consecutive term. I hold a Master of Science Degree in Public Safety Administration, and a Bachelors of Science Degree in Law Enforcement Management.

Evans: The Jobs Plan Cabinet is among my latest accomplishments. Working with area mayors, we have enlisted the aid of community leaders to help create clear policies to create infrastructure to bring good jobs. They will advise us on the creation of infrastructure that will enable us to bring good jobs. I have been instrumental in solving some issues with the animal shelter by establishing boards. I have also established the E911 Policy and Advisory Boards.

(4) What are the key issues in this race? (125 words)

Biggs: County Commissioners establish priorities. They create the policy, and they set the example. From my chair on the county council, I have witnessed a county commissioner’s office which refuses to acknowledge our county’s inability to take on any additional reoccurring debt. It should be alarming to all of us that at the same time our county council is flat lining county government’s general operations budget, the chairman of the board of commissioners is suggesting a new animal shelter, a new police garage, and requesting to purchase a building across the street.

Evans: The issues in this race involve positioning Porter County to take full advantage of job growth by finalizing a comprehensive plan and evaluating the creation of a north/south corridor, potentially in the Portage area – extending Willowcreek Road south to US Hwy 30 or beyond to Ind. 2. Other big issues include: funding E-911, maintaining an employee insurance program that provides full coverage and stability, supporting county offices to insure the tax bills go out on time, and planning and funding support to assure our historic buildings are maintained.

(5)What would be your primary goal if elected to this term? (50 words)

Biggs: If elected, I will promote the creation of a comprehensive strategic operations plan. Simply reacting to problems and then paying consultants to resolve them is not responsible governing. The largest and most expensive problems within county government can be directly attributed to poor planning and even poorer communication.

Evans: Implementing the Jobs Plan as it is released by the Cabinet. This comprehensive plan will allow the county to be in the best position to accept and direct new business and industrial growth. A Redevelopment Commission empowered with the necessary statutory power will aid this endeavor.

(6) Members of the Chesterton Town Council have asked Porter County to partner with them on bringing utilities to the Ind. 49 corridor. Portage has made similar proposals on collaborating with the county. How do you think the county should respond to these requests? (75 words)

Biggs: Our Public Safety Dispatching System is operating at an annual deficit of $2.5 million dollars. A commissioner’s consultant recently stated that the animal shelter needs to increase 3 to 4 times its current size, and the county health insurance program is literally costing more than we can responsibly afford. Once we get our own house in order we will be able to assist other local governments as we should.

Evans: Each proposal should be evaluated based on the common good for citizens of Porter County. Partnering with the Town of Chesterton makes sense. It will provide an infrastructure source from which development could continue, bringing much needed jobs to our communities. The city of Portage is working on a proposal to potentially share a building that could bring services of the county and city together to share costs, rather than support separate buildings and utilities.

(7) Do you feel that the county should impose a tax increment finance (TIF) district as a way to increase development around the new hospital site (75 words)

Biggs: It is important that TIFs are carefully managed since they have the ability to divert property tax revenue from schools, libraries and other much needed local public services. Not every circumstance is the same, which is why county government needs to fully understand its own limitations as well as other local units of government that may be affected by rushing into a decision of this size and scope.

Evans: A TIF District is not necessarily just a means to increase development but it could be a mechanism to make sure development that does occur is orderly and a good “fit” for the area surrounding it. TIF Districts can be very effective in assuring revenue generated from an area stays within that area to be utilized by the citizens. I support considering a TIF District based on the return of investment to the community.

(8)What measures should be taken to improve conditions at the Porter County Animal Shelter? Do you favor building a new facility? (50 words)

Biggs: Yes. However, it must be within our county’s ability to operate it, tactically planned out, and aggressively promoted. I do not understand how something so meaningful in its intended purpose could have been allowed to get in this dreadful condition in the first place.

Evans: The shelter has vastly improved in six months. The new leadership team has worked closely with the dedicated employees and volunteers. Currently the county is anxiously awaiting recommendations from a study by the Shelter Planners of America and we should evaluate the scope and size of a new facility.

(9) The original architect of the county administration building recently told the commissioners that the center is running out of space for government to perform even its basic duties. Do you think the county should purchase a new building to accommodate its growing departments or would you recommend another way to solve space issues? (50 words)

Biggs: A comprehensive facilities assessment of all county buildings needs to be completed before a decision to simply grow government is made. Building our way out of a problem of this type is a very expensive alternative, which is what design architects typically recommend.

Evans: There is definitely a space issue. A new building would help but we must be fiscally responsible and evaluate all potential solutions. Valparaiso is currently purchasing the building across from the administration center and is considering a partnership that may mutually benefit the citizens of the city and Porter County.

(10) As a commissioner, would you make the effort to see funding be given to preserve the Memorial Opera House? (50 words)

Biggs: I’m in favor of preserving the building as it has historically significant to our county. However, last year our county spent over $1,000,000 dollars toward its operations, and little to nothing toward its serious structural needs.

Evans: I absolutely support the preservation. I wrote a CEDIT project for $250,000 to begin the much needed restoration of this treasure which is a source of arts and culture. My opponent voted against this project. It is a Civil War Memorial, a memorial to those who fought for our freedom.

(11) Differentiate yourself from your opponent and tell why you are the best candidate in this race. (75 words)

Biggs: The suffocating debt of our emergency dispatch system, the wreckage of the animal shelter, and the dependency on consultants to fix poor executive decisions are all the consequences of poor planning and management practices. This more than anything defines the biggest differences between me and my opponent. There are other differences which can be read at www.jimbiggs2012.com.

Evans: I subscribe to the theory that a person should run for office to do something, not to be something. I am in my second year as President of the Board of Commissioners – I have the experience and am knowledgeable of the role of the commissioners and the county council. A lifelong resident of Porter County, I have the ability to negotiate and compromise firmly for the common good and build trust among my fellow citizens.

 

Posted 4/10/2012