Chesterton Tribune



Budget season: County Council approves first reading

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In what could turn out to be a long, challenging budget year, the Porter County Council didn’t even break a sweat on Wednesday kicking off the sessions by approving a first reading of budget estimates in a matter of 15 minutes.

All seven Council members gave “yea” votes to 2014 proposed budgets which includes an estimate of $46,255,237 for the County’s General Fund.

Council President Bob Poparad, D-At Large, then opened the public hearing for the budgets, but not one person came up to speak nor signed in.

Sitting in the audience, however, were a few County department heads as well as municipal officials waiting to hear if the Council would approve their 2014 estimated budgets to submit to the state.

County Councils are to give a non-binding review of the budgets from all taxing units within their counties.

From Porter County’s 32 municipal budgets, the Council’s financial specialist Vicki Urbanik reported a mix of taxing units, those whose figures exceed their levies with the 2.6 percent growth quotient limit and those which were under.

She said levies that either met or fell below the growth quotient amount were Center Twp. Trustee, Portage Twp. Trustee, Union Twp. Trustee, Washington Twp. Trustee, Westchester Twp. Trustee, Porter County Public Library, Westchester Public Library, Indian Boundary Conservancy District, Nature Works Conservancy District, and White Oaks Conservancy District.

Those received a positive recommendation from the Council 7-0.

But those who advertised over their growth quotient were denied a favorable vote. Those included several town and township budgets including Chesterton, Porter and Burns Harbor, as well as Boone Twp. Trustee, Jackson Twp. Trustee, Liberty Twp. Trustee, Morgan Twp. Trustee, Pine Twp. Trustee, Pleasant Twp. Trustee, Porter Twp. Trustee, the Damon Run Conservancy District and the Valparaiso Area Lakes Conservancy District.

Urbanik reported that her calculations indicated that Valparaiso Area Lakes Conservancy District was over its levy by less than .1 of a percent.

The Council voted not to recommend those by a 5-2 vote. Those against the motion were Council members Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Karen Conover, R-3rd.

Making the motion was Council member Dan Whitten, D-At Large, who pointed out whether favorable or not, the Council’s vote is not a factor when the state certifies the final budgets and levies. He said taxing units have different reasons for going over the limit.

“If they’re entitled to a finger wagging rather than a thumbs up, that’s the way it’s going to work out,” said Whitten.

Those who did not receive a recommendation will be asked by the Council to lower their budgets to meet their growth quotient.

Urbanik said it is understandable that taxing units advertise above the growth quotient in order to get the highest possible certified levy and if it is advertised higher, “the state will cut it down anyway to meet the limit.”

Looking at what’s to come, Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said the Council will have to look for ways to whittle down the $46 million general fund estimate to meet the expected amount for the certified levy next year.

The certified budget for this year was $38 million after an advertised budget of $44 million and Rivas said the 2014 budget could be as low as $34 million.

That amount does not include the extra funds needed to operate Enhanced 911, which will use up its rainy day funding next year, he said.

The Council will meet at 5 p.m. tonight for a special meeting inside the County Administration Center to discuss challenges like E-911, the staffing of the third pod at the County Jail, and the rising costs of health insurance.

The first group of budget second readings is next Tuesday, Sept. 17, with the jail and County Commissioner funds up first.




Posted 9/12/2013