Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Hospital funds and growth issues in commissioner, council races

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The victors in Tuesday’s Porter County Commissioner and Porter County Council district races will be part of the group holding the purse strings for the almost $9 million in interest from the sale of the county’s Porter Memorial Hospital.

Under a county resolution, the commissioners and council members are restricted from using the roughly $170 million amount in hospital proceeds until 2012, five years after the sale, unless both bodies unanimously agree, but the interest is available for spending.

Candidates in both races say the money should be used to benefit the county economically, but differ as to which method is the best.

In Duneland’s County Council District 1 race, Democrat incumbent Robert Poparad says that half of the interest should go to benefit property taxpayers. He feels that the county should hold off from lending the money to other groups or businesses, making it a point not to show favoritism.

For the other portions of the interest, Poparad proposes setting aside the rest to grow even more interest and store the remaining interest as emergency money. Poparad advocates the county never touch the principle and invest it instead.

Challenging Poparad for his seat is Republican candidate Jim Biggs, a former county commissioner. Biggs favors using the interest to fund economic development.

Biggs believes that national and state funds will be drying up and that the interest money will be needed to fill the gap.

More recently, Biggs has proposed that the hospital money be used to help municipal taxing units pay off the bonds they had to borrow as a result of late tax draws. The total debt obligation is more than $48 million with approximately $5 million paid this year by the taxpayers with $1.7 million in interest.

Biggs said he would like to see more money be given to infrastructure and the Porter County sheriff’s police, believing the first role of government is to ensure the safety of its citizens. Poparad on the other hand believes that the council has adequately funded the sheriff, jail, and the rest of county services while remaining fiscally conservative.

Both men are in favor of the property tax cap proposed by state legislators. Biggs said the caps would require the county to think outside-the-box in order to keep delivering quality services with fewer tax dollars while Poparad said lower taxes will be a strong incentive for business to operate in Porter County.

The caps are also supported by both county commissioner center district candidates, Democratic incumbent Robert Harper and Republican challenger Nancy Adams.

Strongbow Restaurant owner Adams feels stronger property tax reform is needed in how the state figures assessed properties. She was one of the co-founders of the local group Indiana People Advocating Reasonable Taxation.

Adams has focused her platform on starting a master plan for the county, arguing that the county is currently lacking a plan for environmental and economic growth. Developing a growth management plan pooling input from county department heads, elected officials, municipalities, and business leaders would be the best thing the county can do regarding inevitable growth, she said.

Harper agrees that growth must be managed and pledges to keep the county’s rural setting as opposed to “putting up strip malls.” He said that Porter County is among the top fastest growing counties in the state and credits that to low crime and low tax rates.

Harper said he stands firm against the implementation of any new county income taxes and has opposed regional partnerships with Lake County like the RDA which the county pays into $3.5 million per year from a .025 income tax.

Adams said she is against the idea of tax increases, but would allow them if proper research is done to determine if the county would benefit. She said the county does not have to “jump” into partnerships with neighboring counties, but they should at least be acknowledged and, if able, we should give help.

Harper believes that county government can be run efficiently with the money that is allotted. He said he would like to purchase more equipment for county law enforcement. Adams believes that more should be given to county venues like the Porter County Animal Shelter.

Like Poparad, Harper agrees to give breaks to property taxpayers with the hospital interest while Adams would not agree to the fairness of the idea since not every resident in Porter County is a property owner.

Harper said the county commissioners and council need to have a “grand meeting” to determine the perimeters of hospital fund use.

Adams would like to see the money be used for job growth.

“I hope that our children can choose to live and work in Porter County,” she said.



Posted 11/1/2010




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