Chesterton Tribune



4-3 vote okays hospital interest for health costs

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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 year.

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.

Instead, 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’ budgets.

Combining the 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 end-of-the-year shortfall.

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.

Council Attorney 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 budget hearings.

The fund about a year ago held more than $10 million.

Point Persons

Also Monday, 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.

The foundation, 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.

Incoming Council 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.

Fond farewells

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.


Posted 12/16/2014




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