Chesterton Tribune

Poparad and Kovachevich challenge incumbents in County Council atlarge

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Voters in the May 8 Democrat primary will have the opportunity to vote for up to three out of four candidates for at-large County Council. Incumbents Dan Whitten and Sylvia Graham, former council member Robert “Bob” Poparad and newcomer Ned Kovachevich are competing for spots on the general election ballot in November.

Kovachevich declined an invitation to submit a photo for this story.

The top three vote-getters in this race will be included on the general election ballot.

At-large council races are voted on throughout the county. Early voting began April 9.

The Chesterton Tribune invited all candidates to take part in a questionnaire. The Tribune set word limits for each question and reserved the right to edit for length.

(1) Age, place of residence, occupation

Graham: Prefer not to answer, Valparaiso, Porter County Council at large

Kovachevich: 57, Valparaiso, Executive Director for the Lake County Planning & Building Department

Poparad: 54, Burns Harbor, small business owner for 25 years

Whitten: 45, Porter Twp., attorney at Whitten & Whitten Attorneys at law

(2) To Graham and Whitten: Describe your accomplishments in office. (75 words)

Graham: My accomplishments include four years of balanced budgets with no new taxes, job growth, contracts at the new Porter Hospital, procurement of a state-certified tax program, job security for sheriff officers injured in the line of duty, a county warning siren maintenance contract under EMA supervision, the Respite House, support for the arts, and five new building ordinances which include better drainage and giving parents the option of selling land to their children.

Whitten: I have remained steadfast against implementing new taxes. While continuing my anti-tax and spend approach, we have still managed to maintain and improve services. The drainage study has been completed and funding for drainage improvements have been put in place. I have funded agencies such as the Health Department, Family Youth Services, and Porter County Aging to ensure that needed services were not cut. I have made sure that this county remains fiscally sound.

To Kovachevich and Poparad: What are your qualifications for this office? (75 words)

Kovachevich: Porter County has been home to my family and me for over 27 years. I am a registered voter, and have 33 years of experience working for county government. The last 25 years have been spent in a supervisory capacity working directly with the county council and commissioners. This experience has given me a first-hand opportunity to participate in the fiscal and budgetary process. If elected, I would require little training and can begin immediately.

Poparad: My qualifications include serving three terms on the Burns Harbor town council and two terms on Porter County Council. This experience has given me a vast pool of knowledge of government and the budget process.

(3) To Graham and Whitten: Why are you seeking reelection? (75 words)

Graham: Big decisions are looming. I serve on the plan commission, Council on Aging and Community Services, EMA, and the Jail Building Corporation Board. I am also liaison to 11 county departments. I have made tough financial decisions and feel the county is in good shape. Challenges do lie ahead and I want to be a part of the solution. I am asking for four more years of the voters’ confidence.

Whitten: I want to see capital projects in the County to conclusion. Projects such as 911 funding, the Porter County Animal Shelter and drainage need to be completed. While finishing these projects, we need to look into investing discretionary funds, such as the hospital interest money back into the county through development of technology and infrastructure to create new jobs. I want to continue to provide leadership to get these accomplished.

To Kovachevich and Poparad: Why have you decided to run for this seat? (75 words)

Kovachevich: Every citizen should attempt to participate in government, at least by voting. I am disappointed to see the same names on the ballot every election. My children are grown, giving me an opportunity to declare my candidacy. My career working directly with county commissioners and councilmen has given me extraordinary insight into the fiscal and budgetary process. Based on my experience, I can offer a fresh perspective to the citizens and taxpayers of Porter County.

Poparad: I have decided to run for this seat because of my many years of knowledge, experience, and relationships in county government. I have the ability to get along with all parties even if we disagree. Our ultimate goal should be for the betterment of the county not politics.

(4) Why should the voters choose you over the other candidates in this race? (50 words)

Graham: I am a longtime Porter County resident. I’ve worked as a family nurse practitioner at Porter Hospital and for NICP. I was a county 4-H leader for eight years. My active participation in the community and my county council experience make me the most qualified and committed candidate.

Kovachevich: I will not make a career out of elected office; other individuals must take their turn. I decided to refuse campaign donations, as I believe they come with an expectation of obligation. This job serves ALL the people of Porter County, and if elected I will always uphold their trust.

Poparad: Voters should choose me because of the amount of experience I have in local government and I bring a common sense approach.

Whitten: As a former police officer and Army Veteran, I am committed to government service and improving residents’ lives in Porter County. My knowledge of government budgets has been an asset. Considering my occupation as a bankruptcy attorney, I strive for all families in the county to have their voices heard.

(5) What do you feel are the key issues in this race? (75 words)

Graham: No new taxes, E-911 funding, drainage funding, opening of the third jail pod, infrastructure, new Sunset Hill Park facility, new animal shelter, and continued balanced budgets.

Kovachevich: Funding is the key issue. The Council has the sole responsibility to fund offices essential to the public need while attempting to maintain elective offices to the greatest extent possible. There are ways the Council can use its influence to promote change throughout government, but it should not encroach on the duties and responsibilities of other offices. We must work together on behalf of the people to facilitate good government.

Poparad: Keys issues are funding 911 and hospital interest money.

Whitten: Creation of jobs and reduced taxes. Candidates need to be looked at to see their tax and spend philosophy. Reduced taxes and creation of jobs is the key to the future of our county. I have a proven track record of standing against tax increases, while continuing the funding in order to maintain and improve services in Porter County.

(6) What items in the county budgets do you feel could use increased funding and where would you argue cuts be made? (75 words)

Graham: E-911 and drainage funds will have to be addressed with the next budget. Both of these issues deal with safety and I hope state legislators come to our aid for E-911. CEDIT funds may need to be used for some of this. No department will readily admit they do not need money. It may come down to all departments making sacrifices across the board.

Kovachevich: Essential services include police, fire, emergency services, roads and highways all need funding. Other offices including assessor, auditor, the treasurer require funding to complete the assessment process necessary for the continued existence of local government. Criminal Justice, including the clerk, prosecutor, and courts is vital to help insure the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Porter County. Elective offices provide important services too. Many of them have their own source of revenue.

Poparad: 911 needs to be fully funded by the county as this is a state mandate. It is our role to the citizens to make 911 work. The state on the other hand did not do their job with the cell phone 911 fees versus the land line fees. The county will have to fill the gap.

Whitten: That is a moving target. As the county council approaches each budget session, we must prioritize. As council president, each year I have begun with first looking at available funds through the growth factor. After which, we look at what state mandated and inflationary increases have occurred to the budgets. We then look at what projects are most pressing and allocate available funds to the most pressing projects.

(7) Some members of the current council have recently made the argument that part-time elected officials such as County Council members and Commissioners should not be eligible to receive health insurance as a benefit. Would you agree? Why or why not? (50 words)

Graham: The commissioners and county council members are considered part-time elected officials. I think it would show leadership to have these members not receive health insurance through county government. I did not run for office to get health insurance.

Kovachevich: The Porter County Board of Commissioners, our legislative body having ordinance authority, is responsible for answering this question. Personally, I feel everyone employed by the county should be treated equally according to written policy. I do not believe that part-time employees or consultants should be eligible for health insurance benefits.

Poparad: Health insurance is not the area of the county council. It is the commissioners’ decision, not the county council. The county council role is funding, not personnel.

Whitten: The county council does not determine eligibility for insurance. We need less grandstanding and more accomplishing at the council meetings. Stripping the Commissioners or Council of insurance would have very little impact of the cost, perhaps even no impact since the county is self-insured.

(8) With the sale of Porter Hospital, the county has approximately $9 million in interest to use at its discretion. Would you recommend the county spend this money? If so, how should the council appropriate the funds? Should the $161 million principal of the sale be spent once it becomes available? (75 words)

Graham: I believe the hospital interest money should be carefully spent. We have some big-ticket items that need to be funded. The hospital principal money is the future of Porter County and should be preserved for reinvestment. A good portion of it is being made available to towns and cities in Porter County as loans at an interest rate lower than what the borrowers would have to pay from a bank.

Kovachevich: Assuming the $161 million principal and $9 million in interest are all taxpayer dollars, the money should be returned to the taxpayers of Porter County. A referendum posing this question could be offered during the primary or general election to determine what the citizens should be done with their money. I do not believe county government is intended to run at a surplus; that’s giving elected officials too much power without adequate transparency.

Poparad: From the sale of the Porter County Hospital the interest money should only be earmarked for economic development that will create jobs. It is not a steady stream of revenue that can be counted on regularly for operating capital. Economic development implies capital projects, infrastructure, joint ventures with cities and town to better the county. The main focus is long term job creation.

Whitten: It is imperative the sale principal not be utilized. We should continue to prioritize the projects in the county to maintain that we live within our means. We should not use the interest for “operating expenses” because once you allocate it to that, then we encourage various departments to live beyond their budgets, and the money is gone. Instead we should use the interest for capital improvements throughout the county like drainage and 911.

(9) How would you suggest the Council play a role in the overall growth of the county’s economy? Would you favor the use of Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts? (75 words)

Graham: The county must have safe and responsible growth which is what our unified development ordinance is for. The county will expand, especially in the areas near the new Porter hospital. This is an unincorporated area of the county, and I wish to see it stay that way. I see why TIF districts are formed to recapture tax funds for infrastructure but I want to make sure schools, fire and police protection do not suffer.

Kovachevich: The Council must collaborate with all governmental entities, business, industries and private citizens to encourage a positive growth that would attract new people, businesses and industry to our area. TIF districts are established by redevelopment commissions who are themselves established by legislative bodies of their respective city, town or county. As a Porter County Council member, we would not have much input into the creation of a TIF district.

Poparad: The county’s role in economic development should assume the leadership role for the entire county and direct the interested parties to the municipal town, city or unincorporated county that fits their needs. I’m not in favor of TIF districts as they deprive all the other tax entities in growth and revenue (i.e. the schools).

Whitten: There is no doubt the council should play a role in the county’s growth. We should have ongoing input into the investment into our county’s future. Projects such as the 49 corridor and Route 6 development should remain part of our agenda. As the keepers of the purse, it would be nonsensical to expect the council not remain at the table in developing and improving the county. Elected officials need to work together on this.

(10) Do you regularly attend Porter County Council or County Commissioner meetings? Why or why not? (25 words)

Graham: I attend all Porter County Council meetings. It would be a great disservice if I didn’t. I attend County Commissioner meetings on several occasions.

Kovachevich: I review Porter County Council and Commissioner meeting minutes online, but do not regularly attend meetings.

Poparad: I regularly attend county meetings. Even though I’m not currently on the council, I’m still an active member of the community.

Whitten: I prefer to meet regularly with the Commissioners personally. As Council President, I have held joint Commissioner-Council meetings to accomplish and discuss issues.

 

 

 

Posted 4/18/2012