Chesterton Tribune



Commissioners and Council to work on comprehensive building plan

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Porter County Government will soon have new income from the investment of its hospital sale proceeds through a non-profit charitable foundation.

Both the County Council and the Board of Commissioners have discussed possible uses over the last few months and on Tuesday talked about working together on a comprehensive capital needs plan.

Council member Dan Whitten, D-at large, asked Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, during Tuesday’s Council meeting what the Commissioners are planning to do with what remains of the $10 million in hospital proceeds that was not invested and set aside for other projects.

Biggs said the Commissioners anticipate coming to the Council with a list of projects to get its input. Those projects will include renovations to the County Administration Building and Courthouse, sections of the Expo Center, and the North County Government Complex in Portage.

The Commissioners are currently having a needs study done of the annex building in Portage. The question Biggs said he hopes to have answered is whether it will be more beneficial to rehab the existing facility or construct a new building altogether.

Biggs said the Commissioners might look to bonding rather than using hospital proceeds to do the work required, but told the Council it will be their decision since they act as the County’s fiscal arm. But the Commissioners won’t know their options until the study is done, he said.

“All we know is what you know. We have a very old building that is not functioning as well as it should be and because of that it is costing us more money to operate than normally,” said Biggs.

Whitten asked if a new building is needed, would it be at the same location on Willowcreek Ave. or would it be placed in a more central location within Portage, as had been advocated by Portage Mayor James Snyder. Biggs replied there are factors that need to be considered for a new location such as traffic flow and security, being that it is a courthouse.

Council President Mike Jessen, R-4th, said Commissioner President Jeff Good, R-Center, told him the Commissioners are making the plan comprehensive for the County’s needs.

Whitten asked that Council members be included in the plan discussions.

“Given the financial situation the County is in and the way money is going to be flowing in, that the Council be involved in the planning. I don’t want to be presented a plan. I want to be involved in the creation of that plan because the hospital interest money is under our oversight,” Whitten told Biggs. “I have a lot of priorities in my own mind.”

Biggs agreed. “I think it is a good idea to have a couple members of the County Council to form a plan because, as you know, money is everything. I think it is imperative of having people who know where the County is financially.”

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, asked if the Commissioners have moved ahead on the 800 megahertz emergency response system upgrades for local fire, police and EMS radio.

Biggs said that project is “still in the infancy stage.” The Commissioners and the E-911 Center are currently identifying where to put communications towers but have not gotten deep into looking at equipment needs.

Local fire and police departments are asking questions of the Commissioners on an almost weekly basis about how to move forward, Biggs said. “I will say publicly that we are going to help them as much as we can without hurting ourselves,” he said.

Animal Shelter

In the business portion of the meeting, the Council approved the Commissioner’s request to allocate $963,568 in unspent funds towards the building of the new animal shelter that were previously appropriated out of hospital sale proceeds in 2016.

It also approved the $1 million in donations to complete construction. Valparaiso resident Jacki Stutzman made the donation of $1 million for the new shelter last May.

Construction for the Animal Shelter is on track to be finished this month. The County will then prepare the inside of the new facility near the County Expo Center at Ind. 49 and Division Rd. and open it around June.

“It looks great,” said Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, who recently toured the construction. “It looks like a dream is coming true here in Porter County for the Animal Shelter. It’s a wonderful thing for the animals. They’re going to love it.”

Foundation meeting

The Council with the Board of Commissioners will meet as the Porter County Government Nonprofit Charitable Foundation Board on Tuesday, March 21 where they will hear the latest investment performance of the hospital sale principal.



Posted 3/2/2017




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