Porter County Republican voters will have plenty to pick from in this year’s
County Council at-large race in the May 8 primary.
Six challengers – Mark Hoffman, Ralph Iler, Ethan Lowe, Edward Morales,
Ralph Neff and Joe Wszolek -- are campaigning for a seat on the seven-member
Council. All three at-large seats are on the ballot this year. Voters in the
primary elections may vote for up to three. The top three vote-getters will
be on the November general election ballot.
At-large council races are voted on throughout the county. Early voting
began on 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
Hoffman: 62, Valparaiso, Athletic Director at Valparaiso High School
Iler: 48, Kouts, Criminal Justice Instructor at Wheeler High School and
Ivy Technical College
Lowe: 33, Liberty Twp., attorney at Blachly, Tabor, Bozik & Hartman in
Morales: 43, Porter Twp., Managing Partner of an Insurance Benefits
Neff: 53, Valparaiso, Business Owner
Wszolek: 58, Portage, Indiana-certified Real Estate Appraiser
(2) What are your qualifications for this office? (75 words)
Hoffman: The County Council is the fiscal body of County Government
charged with overseeing the budget. In addition to overseeing the budget,
the Council must work together with other elected officials, especially the
Board of Commissioners in order to govern effectively. I have spent my
entire career as an educator, coach and now Athletic Director managing
people, organizations, teams and budgets.
Iler: I worked for the county 12 years as a Juvenile Probation Officer
and resigned after serving five years as Chief Probation Officer. As a
department head I submitted and managed the budget to the County Council. I
am currently the Republican representative of the Sheriff’s Officers on the
Porter County Sheriff’s Police Merit Board. I have worked with many advisory
committees within county government. I have a Masters of Public Affairs
degree from Indiana University.
Lowe: I devote a substantial portion of my legal practice to
representing units of local government in Northwest Indiana. The knowledge
and experience that I have gained as part of my legal practice has left me
uniquely qualified to represent the residents of Porter County as a member
of the Porter County Council.
Morales: I currently serve as the Porter Township Trustee. It is the
largest township in Porter County without a municipality. I am responsible
for planning and managing the township budget which includes the general
fund, township assistance, fire protection and public safety. I serve on the
Northwest Indiana Plan Commission assigned to the Finance Committee and
Transportation Policy Committee. In 2010, Porter Township was named Indiana
Township of the Year.
Neff: As a successful business owner, I know what it means to meet a
payroll, keep a budget, make appropriations, make sound financial decisions,
and be accountable. This is exactly the requirement for Porter County
Wszolek: I have been a leader in the Northwest Indiana community for
over 20 years. I have been a small business owner since 1992 during which
time I managed my own successful appraisal practice. I have served on boards
of zoning appeals, plan commissions, town councils, regional planning and
steering committees - both as an elected and appointed official. I also
serve on nonprofit boards and currently the Porter County Property Tax
Assessment Board of Appeals.
(3) Why have you decided to run for this seat? (75 words)
Hoffman: I’ve always believed in giving back to the community. Porter
County is a great place to live, work and raise a family, and more people
should get involved in public service.
Iler: After years of working in and around county government, I have
decided that the time has come to take a more active role in our community.
I have always worked in the public sector and believe that it is now my turn
to take a leadership role.
Lowe: I have decided to run because I believe that I will bring a unique
set of qualifications that will benefit the council.
Morales: Because of past years of poor financial planning I understand
the complex financial budgets of units of government. I have the experience
to make the decisions that will have to be addressed by the council
concerning E-911, the Animal Shelter and rising health insurance costs all
of which will come before the council for future funding.
Neff: My decision to run can be summarized with three words: SERVICE
ABOVE SELF. As a Rotarian for over 25 years, the words have special meaning
to me. I have been very fortunate to serve as President of Hospice, make
deliveries for Meals on Wheels and serve as a board member for the Porter
County Community Foundation. I feel now is the time for me to give back even
more to the community.
Wszolek: I am disappointed with the current council’s leadership and the
lack of professionalism and civility that I have observed over recent years.
I will ensure that the council conducts business in an orderly and
respectful manner that promotes confidence in our county government. I will
serve as the voice of reason to foster a spirit of cooperation and to create
a unified sense of purpose among Porter County Council members.
(4) Why should the voters choose you over the other candidates in this race?
Hoffman: I would ask the voters to consider my lifelong service to the
youth of Porter County, my ability to lead an organization and I firmly
believe in building bridges both within our county and regionally to work
together to solve our challenges.
Iler: I have a working knowledge of county government. I believe that I
am the only candidate that has worked within county government as an
employee and as a department head. I worked for the Juvenile Probation
Department for 12 years.
Lowe: Due to my experiences related to my legal practice, I am well
versed in the issues currently facing units of government in Indiana. My
knowledge of these issues coupled with my experience in tackling these
problems has left me uniquely qualified to represent the citizens of Porter
Morales: My experience and my ability to work well with others. I will
be available to my constituents, fellow board members, elected officials and
department heads so that I can strive to make sound financial decisions to
the best of my ability and accountability to the taxpayers of Porter County.
Neff: I have the business experience to understand how important workers
and wage-earners are to our economic strength as a region. Porter County is
in need of people who have the experience to create economic opportunities,
union trade development, and stop the wasteful spending of career
politicians. I am that person.
Wszolek: I possess the optimal balance of experience and innovation. I
have served as a leader and always seek to improve the status quo. I have
been able to make the best —although sometimes unpopular— choices for the
benefit of the taxpayer. I listen to and will consider all viewpoints.
(5) What do you feel are the key issues in this race? (75 words)
Hoffman: We need more jobs in Porter County. The unemployment rate is
simply too high. We need to focus on a balanced approach to spending (making
investments) but balancing the budget with running as efficient a government
as possible. We need a plan for the proceeds of the sale of Porter Memorial
Iler: The key issues are always: Fiscal responsibility and forming
strong working relationships with other governmental entities as well as
local business to insure the growth and strength of the county; the funding
and continued improvement of the 911 Center; the improvement of
communication equipment for local fire and police; the proper use of the
“hospital money” is on everyone’s mind. A final issue is that of employee
management. The health care costs are skyrocketing.
Lowe: I believe that the key issues in the race are the use of the
hospital sale proceeds, animal shelter and other budgetary matters.
Morales: Working to find responsible solutions to fund our financial
obligations; a long term funding solution for E-911 which at the moment is
running at a $2,500,000 annual deficit; the Animal Shelter; and at some
point the County Commissioners will be coming to the Council to fund new
building. The County health insurance program costs are spiraling out of
control to a point we can no longer afford.
Neff: Employment and preservation of the quality of life in Porter
County; 7.9 percent for Valparaiso and 9.6 percent for Portage unemployed is
not acceptable. We need to stimulate existing businesses and bring new
businesses into Porter County. I am in favor of any form of spurring the
economy and economic development without directly relying on federal funds.
Wszolek: The overarching issue is that the leadership of the council has
been reactionary as opposed to being proactive in its planning and decision
making. We need a comprehensive plan to fund government into the future and
need to refrain from approaching the budget in piecemeal fashion. This
includes the funding of E911, health insurance, the animal shelter, the Expo
Center, bridge and road construction/repair and public safety.
(6) What items in the county budgets do you feel could use increased funding
and where would you argue cuts be made? (75 words)
Hoffman: Any investment in infrastructure spending I would favor not
cutting. Our roads, sewers, and sidewalks are key to our future growth. It
appears as if the animal shelter has been underfunded for many years. This
needs to be addressed. The Memorial Opera House is a fantastic historic
asset for the County but needs additional investment.
Iler: I am in the process of going over the entire budget and it is a
complex budget with many funding sources and past commitments that must be
managed. It would be premature to make any statements without first speaking
with department heads and fully understanding the issues at hand.
Lowe: I would like to see all parts of the county’s budget reviewed in
order to determine whether adjustments can be made to make County government
more efficient and cost effective.
Morales: E-911 is one of them, a major role of county government is
public safety; a number of years ago dispatch centers were consolidated and
handed over to county dispatch with no long term budget funding in place.
The Animal Shelter is another; when it became a no-kill shelter with no
budget funding in place to accommodate that policy. I don’t think we can
begin to discuss cuts until we define our current funding obligations.
Neff: Funding increases-- Health Insurance for full time County
Employees, the 911 Communication Center, and the Porter County Coalition for
Affordable Housing ”No Place Like Home initiative” to eliminate
homelessness. When it comes to budget cuts “one-size-fits-all” is not the
solution. Porter County is a diverse county. The needs in South Haven are
not the same needs in Valparaiso or Chesterton. Too many reform efforts fail
because too little thought is given to practicality or implementation.
Wszolek: First we need a sustainable plan to fund E911 beyond the
beginning of 2013. Additional funding is needed for road and bridge repair,
the gradual implementation of the comprehensive drainage plan and
improvements to our infrastructure that promote a job creating, business
friendly environment. We need to focus on the core duties and
responsibilities of government, and carefully evaluate the cost of all
services on a case by case basis.
(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)
Hoffman: I agree that part-time employees both elected and appointed
should not be eligible to receive health insurance. I believe that it should
be afforded to full time employees only, whether or not they are elected.
Iler: I believe that part-time employees whether elected or otherwise
hired should not receive full time benefits. It is an extravagance the
county can no longer afford to provide.
Lowe: I would like to see this issue studied further. If I am elected to
the Council, I will not elect to receive health insurance from the county.
Morales: Part-time elected officials should be held to the same standard
as private sector employees and part-time employees in most cases do not
qualify for health insurance benefits.
Neff: When elected I personally will NOT accept insurance coverage as a
County Councilperson. I feel that Commissioners or Council Members could
receive insurance only if it is paid for by themselves, and not at the
Wszolek: I am not running for Porter County Council to receive health
insurance benefits and I will decline them if offered. I feel this expense
is disproportional to the services being performed - especially in a tough
economic time and a time of state-imposed fiscal discipline.
(8) With the sale of Porter Hospital, the county has approximately $9
million in interest to use at their 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)
Hoffman: We need to engage a lot of different stakeholders and have a
comprehensive plan for both the proceeds and the interest.
Iler: The interest from the hospital should be put into the general fund
but should not be used to add ongoing costs such as employees. It should be
used for purchases that may be needed. The decision whether to spend the
principal could be handled much like a foundation. A committee of various
elected and local citizens would review requests and ideas then make
recommendations to the council. This money should be used for growth
Lowe: If elected, I will encourage the County Council to develop a
strategic plan concerning how the Hospital sale proceeds, including both the
principal and interest, will be spent. I would prefer that such a plan be
developed prior to Council electing to spend any more of the proceeds,
absent emergencies arising. Once the plan is developed, I would like to see
an emphasis on using the Hospital sale proceeds to leverage federal and
Morales: One thing this interest money should not be used for is to
cover short falls in the budget. This is not a reliable source of funding
and to rely on it to fund our budget deficits is a recipe for disaster. Too
often CEDIT money is used for everything but economic development. The $161
million principal should be invested in a way that we can maximize our
return of interest.
Neff: Porter County appears to be in strong fiscal shape; the $161
million principal should be kept in a rainy day fund and not appropriated to
purchase any more buildings. Interest generated from this fund should be
allocated with a “bipartisan relationship” among the officials. One third of
the funds should be used for education, our youth is our future. The balance
could be allocated for CEDIT projects, county highways, E-911 communication,
animal shelter, etc.
Wszolek: The principal from the Hospital sale should not be touched and
should be protected under all but the direst of circumstances. It should be
preserved for the safekeeping of Porter County’s future. The interest,
however, could be used to fill the holes in long term budget planning, for
essential government services only. Simply because this money exists does
not mean that we should create places to spend it.
(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)
Hoffman: TIF is one of the best economic development tools available; I
would support the County using a Redevelopment Commission to fund
infrastructure and redevelopment projects.
Iler: The use of TIF districts can be a great tool to help develop areas
but needs to be used sparingly. The council currently is seen as a burden to
work with by many local agencies and businesses. This needs to change. The
council should be an open organization that focuses on working with other
agencies to find solutions to the complex problems facing our community.
This will encourage economic stability.
Lowe: Porter County is in a unique position for economic development
with the sale proceeds of Porter Hospital. I would like the County to
develop a strategic plan governing its use of the sale proceeds including
expenditures for economic development. If the issue is properly evaluated, I
have no objection to the County’s use of TIF districts. I believe TIF
districts should be used sparingly to avoid the county competing with
cities/towns to incentivize economic development.
Morales: The Council needs to be more receptive to economic planning in
the future, something it has not been in the past. TIF districts can have a
profound ability to divert property tax revenue from schools, libraries,
public safety and other local public services. County government needs to
understand the impact of these limitations as well as other local units of
government before enacting on these types of districts.
Neff: Supporting communities with their individual economic development
will be a key issue in my campaign. TIF districts are just one example of a
possible solution. If TIF districts are used, I would insist on projects
approved with complete transparency, and that programs (such as school
districts) that rely on tax funding are considered before approval is
Wszolek: The overriding concern with TIFs is that they hurt funding to
our local schools and municipal governments. I would carefully employ a
“but-for” test in determining whether a TIF is appropriate: namely, a TIF
should only be considered if, but for the implementation of the TIF, the
economic growth would not occur. Jobs and economic growth should be a
priority, but not at the expense of the local school districts.
(10) Do you regularly attend Porter County Council or County Commissioner
meetings? Why or why not? (25 words)
Hoffman: I haven’t regularly attended meetings; however I do read the
minutes and keep up with county matters as much as I can.
Iler: Previously, I had attended many Council meetings and recently
began attending again. The commissioner meetings are at inconvenient times
but I follow them in newspapers.
Lowe: I have previously attended both County Council and Commissioner
meetings. If I am elected, I will strive to attend all of the Council’s
Morales: As an elected official I have attended both including County
Planning and BZA meetings representing my constituent’s on various issues
that affected my township.
Neff: I try to be present at many meetings as possible but when I
cannot, I follow the issues through the newspaper and online meeting
Wszolek: Yes. I have attended many in order to be an active and informed