Chesterton Tribune

Commissioner, Council contests highlight party primary ballots

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Job creation and careful budgeting are fueling the fires in the 2012 Porter County May 8 primary elections for North and South District County Commissioners and the County Council’s three at-large seats.

The battle is most alive in current 1st District Councilmember Jim Biggs’ bid for incumbent County Commissioner John Evans’ seat on the GOP ballot.

The two have been at each other’s necks over issues since Day 1. Biggs has harshly criticized Evans and his board for not putting funding plans in place from when the county’s Enhanced 911 consolidated with Valparaiso and Portage dispatching centers and since the commissioners switched the Porter County Animal Shelter over to no-kill, blaming the problems seen there on “poor planning and mismanagement.”

Evans has rebuked the criticism by referring to himself as a “doer” citing his formation of advisory boards for E-911 and the animal shelter which he said have produced vast improvements at both facilities.

Evans wants to partner with municipalities on projects such as shared building space with the cities of Valparaiso and Portage and most notably the Town of Chesterton’s offer for the county to hook up to its sewer lines to create a utility corridor on Ind. 49 that could stretch to U.S. 6.

Biggs prefers that county officials first get a handle on how to fund the county’s recurring costs for a new animal shelter, health insurance and E-911 before giving serious thought to joint projects with municipalities.

The completion of the County Jobs Cabinet initiative is tops on Evans’ list of things to get accomplished in his next term. Evans helped form the cabinet to try to bring permanent jobs to the area. Biggs said his biggest undertaking if elected would be to create a comprehensive strategic plan for county operations over the next five years.

South County Commissioner races

Taking a similar approach to Biggs’ platform is current 4th District County Council representative Jim Polarek who is running for the South County Commissioner seat against newcomer Michael Heinold. Polarek is also a backer of a five-year comprehensive plan to address the lack of funding for the E-911 budget. He also wants for the commissioner board to take a serious look at the county employee health insurance plan which has nearly doubled in cost per employee since 2007.

Heinold’s top priority is to hone in on practices that will bring more jobs to the area and to break down the barriers that have muddled communication between the council – the county’s fiscal body – and the board of commissioners.

Polarek has emphasized the importance of using federal highway dollars to improve county roads. He also was instrumental in finding grant money for county fire departments to purchase new radio systems to meet the requirements of the Federal Communications Commission. Heinold has a knack for technology wants to use his skills and background to continue the county’s move to online services.

In the Democratic race for South District County Commissioner, Laura Shurr Blaney, the third county council member vying for a commissioner post, is challenged by Jerry Puckett.

Puckett holds a master’s degree in public administration and said he is willing to listen to the concerns of county citizens. He wants to look at a plan to expand Willowcreek Road in Portage to U.S. 30.

Blaney is part of the bandwagon hoping to create more jobs and economic growth. She said she wants to protect the $161 million principal and find ways to invest in infrastructure, public safety and quality of life benefits such as the arts and parks.

Tribune questionnaires found various areas where Blaney and Puckett overlap. Both candidates favor partnering with Chesterton on the Ind. 49 utility corridor project, making changes to the county’s health insurance plan, building a new animal shelter and both said if elected they would make the commissioner’s position their full-time job.

County Council at-large races

County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at-large, and council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, are seeking reelection bids in the pick three Democrat race for council at large. The two incumbents are being challenged by former county council member Bob Poparad and Ned Kovachevich.

Poparad cites his budget experience and his ability to get along with other county officials, regardless of their party affiliation. He believes the key issues facing the council include funding E-911’s operational budget and protecting the hospital sale money while using the $9.5 million in interest for job creation projects.

Kovachevich has worked in county government for 33 years in Lake County which has given him firsthand experience working with council members and commissioners on budgets. He believes hospital money should be given back to taxpayers and suggested holding a public referendum to ask the taxpayers how they would like to see the money handled.

Whitten said he is proud of the fact the county has been solvent during his years as president of the council and did not have to tell any of the departments to cut their personnel numbers. If elected, he wishes to continue his stance against new tax increases and find funding solutions for a new animal shelter, drainage work and E-911.

Graham said she is also against new taxes and will fight for continued balanced budgets. She said the county is poised for growth in the U.S. 6 area surrounding the new Porter Regional Hospital and wants to see planning and development be done carefully.

From the GOP side, there are certainly a lot to choose from when it comes to candidates. Six names are also vying for pick three spots for placement on the 2012 general elections in November. The six running are new faces, none of which are incumbents.

Mark Hoffman is currently the athletic director at Valparaiso High School and believes he can effectively manage people, organizations and budgets. He says he will use his teambuilding skills to get local officials to work together.

Ralph Iler formerly worked as the county’s chief probation officer for five years and spent 12 working as a juvenile probation officer. He is looking to participate in discussions on how the county can be fiscally responsible while funding operations and suggested using the hospital money for growth projects that are authorized by a committee.

Ethan Lowe is an attorney at Blachly, Tabor, Bozik & Hartman LLC and said he possesses a wide variety of abilities to better the quality of life for county residents. If elected, he would call for a comprehensive plan for the hospital sale proceeds and further the use of the money by using it to leverage state and federal funding.

Edward K. Morales is currently the trustee for Porter Township, which was named Indiana Township of the Year in 2010. He blames poor planning for the county’s many financial challenges. To assist the county, Morales supports a funding plan for a new animal shelter, E-911 operations and employee health insurance.

Ralph Neff is the owner of Mechanical Concepts Inc. and has been on several community boards serving Porter County. He emphasizes “service above self” for all elected officials and wants to see the hospital interest money spent on things like education, E-911, the animal shelter and county highways while the principal remains untapped.

Joe Wszolek currently serves as president of the county’s property tax assessment board of appeals and wants the county to work on separate plans to fund and sustain county operations, E-911 and to promote economic growth. He is pushing for the implementation of the comprehensive drainage plan and improvements to infrastructure that promote job creation.

Other races

There is an additional contested race on the Republican ballot for Porter County Surveyor. Voters will choose whether Richard “Rich” Hudson or William Rensberger will be Democratic incumbent Kevin Breitzke’s challenger in the November general elections.

Hudson has been a licensed professional land surveyor for 24 years and has a history of working with the county surveyor’s office. He was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels to serve on the Land Surveying State Licensing Board. He said he will work to address surveying issues in a timely manner.

Rensberger has been a surveyor for more than 30 years and has participated in many surveys and site plans in the county and said he has a good perspective on issues that landowners may have. If elected, he would like to cross-train employees in his office to run operations efficient as possible.

Other candidates running unopposed in the county primary races are Democratic County Treasurer Mike Bucko, Judge of the Superior Court II Republican candidate Anthony Pampalone, Judge of the Superior Court II Democratic incumbent William Alexa, and Judge of the Superior Court VI Republican incumbent Jeffrey Thode.

 

Posted 5/7/2012