By JEFF SCHULTZ
At its final
meeting of the year, the Porter County Council Monday voted 4-3 to use $2.52
million in interest money from the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital to help
cover the remaining costs for County employees’ health coverage for this
Voting in favor
were Council President Dan Whitten, Vice-president Karen Conover, R-3rd, and
members Robert Poparad, D-at large, and Jim Biggs, R-1st. The three members
opposing the move were Sylvia Graham, D-at large, Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and
Jim Polarek, R-4th.
That’s a different
outcome than for an earlier proposal made by the County Commissioners, who
suggested in August using $5 million in hospital interest as a solution to
the health insurance dilemma. That yielded no votes of support from the
Council this fall allocated roughly $1 million in county economic
development income tax funds that were no longer needed for the County’s
E-911 center along with $2 million of unused CEDIT in the Commissioners’
budget to cover outstanding claims for a few months.
Polarek said he
wished that more CEDIT could be used to eliminate the shortfall but the
Commissioners have said there is not enough to cover the costs entirely.
At the start of
Monday’s meeting, all Council members approved reductions in unused funding
from a number of County General Fund budgets, all together totaling
$144,094. In addition, $207,585 was transferred out of the Commissioners’
amounts, County Budget and Financial Specialist Vicki Urbanik said that
$351,679 in the General Fund was “moved around” for insurance.
By the end of the
meeting, a grand total of $2,878,377 was found to close the funding gap,
which was approximately what the County Auditor had anticipated for the
The County had
allocated $10.3 million for insurance for this year. For 2015, the Council
has set aside close to $9 million which may be sufficient if changes to the
plan can reduce costs.
In order to dip
into the hospital interest, both the Council and Commissioners must approve
the move with majority votes.
Scott McClure said the Commissioners will be asked to approve the $2.52
million at their meeting Tuesday.
There is $8.67
million in the fund now, Urbanik said, and that total would drop to $6.1
million with this action. That does not include the $1.3 million in hospital
interest that had been approved for insurance during this fall’s County 2015
The fund about a
year ago held more than $10 million.
Whitten reiterated his hope that a foundation to invest part of the $159
million principal from the sale of the county hospital will significantly
boost the amount of interest the county can earn.
He also brought
copies of a bill drafted by State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, which aims
to help counties earn a higher return on long-term investments.
along with insurance, the new human resources department and the beginnings
of a new County Animal Shelter are three projects Whitten asked his
colleagues to join him on.
“We have some major
things to deal with next year,” Whitten said.
Goals can be met
with a more organized system of communication, Whitten said. The system
should have “point persons” from the Council who can regularly keep all of
the members updated on important matters.
“I don’t want to
find out (things) at meetings any more,” Whitten said. “We need to keep
moving because we can’t afford to be stagnant.”
Biggs agreed to be
the designated liaison in charge of speaking with the commissioners about
health insurance plans. He has advocated for the commissioners to bid out
the insurance plan and said “if changes aren’t made soon, the costs for next
year will get worse before they get better.”
Rivas and Conover
will be the point persons for the new animal shelter, which the
commissioners announced a few weeks ago is to be located at the home site at
the Expo Center.
member Michael Jessen and Graham will be the contacts for the new county
human resources department. Jessen will represent the fourth council
district starting in January.
Poparad and Whitten
will spearhead the process of getting the Foundation established, starting
with talking to applicants for the advisory board.
In other business,
the Council, by unanimous vote, appropriated $30,000 in donations taken in
from the Wildlife Management Fund to pay for a rehabilitation flight cage at
the recently opened Moraine Ridge Wildlife Center in Washington Twp.
With Monday being
his last meeting, Polarek was presented with a plaque from his fellow
Council members celebrating his four years of service and dedication to the
taxpayers of Porter County.
“Most of the time
it’s been a pleasure,” Polarek said, half-joking. He asked the Council
members to “keep in mind the citizens of rural Porter County” next year and
not charge them outrageously with the potential new storm water fee.
The Council also
gave best wishes to County Auditor Robert Wichlinski who will be leaving
office at the end of this year.
“It’s been a fun
ride, good adventure and a great experience,” he said reflecting on his four
years. He said he hopes his successor Urbanik will find the job rewarding.