Chesterton Tribune



Commissioners offer to use CEDIT to fund jail medical staff

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The Porter County Commissioners want to take a “pro-active” approach in aiding the County Council and the Sheriff’s Department, said Commissioner President John Evans, R-North.

He and fellow commissioners Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, at their meeting Tuesday said they are willing to pledge upwards of $2 million in unallocated county economic development income tax (CEDIT) funds toward two major funding challenges in the 2014 County budgets Ð the new medical personnel at Porter County Jail and the Enhanced 911 Communications Center.

Both were hot discussion topics at the County Council meeting last week when the Council voted to hire two new medical officers to handle the large inmate population. The Council also agreed to use $1.1 million of the hospital sale interest fund toward new protocol software and new consoles to open up more police and fire channels on dispatch radios.

But Council members like Dan Whitten, D-At Large, felt it would be best for the Commissioners be in step with the Council as it deliberates strategies to hire jail staff and to maintain the budget for E-911, as it is reportedly the rainy day funds for operations may be depleted by next fall.

The Council called for a meeting to openly discuss the funding obstacles before the Council’s yearly budget work gets underway on Wednesday, Sept. 11. As of this morning, the joint meeting date has yet to be set.

Evans said his board is ready to talk about budgets and is offering up the CEDIT funds.

“We’re just trying to help out with (the Council’s) plans,” he said. “The right thing to do would be to get this out in front of all of us.”

The County’s General Fund levy will be less than what it was last year, he added, although income tax revenues are up this year.

Also, Evans gave the Council a heads up on the Commissioners’ plans to request during the annual budget hearings this month restoration of $2 million of their health insurance budget to cover the rest of the year.

The Commissioners had their budget slashed by a slim majority of County Council members last year in the eleventh hour of the 2013 budget hearings from $9 million to $5,964,986. As of now, there is a balance of $466,738 remaining in the Commissioner’s health insurance funds from that amount which may or may not run out depending on the number of claims made between now and the end of the year.

The Council’s financial records show that currently there is $1.6 million in health insurance funds across all County budgets.

Jail review program

The Commissioners are getting behind an effort with the Porter County Community Corrections Advisory Board and Porter County PACT on ways to mitigate the growing number of inmates at the County Jail by placing more non-violent offenders in monitoring programs.

Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper, who serves on the advisory board, said that PACT programs currently monitor non-violent offenders after they are sentenced and are allowed to be removed from incarceration.

Harper and PACT Director Tammy O’Neill proposed extending the services to those non-violent offenders who are awaiting trial and sentencing proceedings. The initiative would include hiring one full-time and two part-time employees from PACT that would make assessments of inmates and determine which of them are suited for the monitoring programs.

The additional review program has a cost of $147,690, for which the Commissioners will seek approval from the County Council to draw from unallocated CEDIT which includes the purchase of 30 GPS monitoring systems. Harper said costs for the program will be lower next year as the equipment purchase is a one-time expense.

Using the 30 GPS devices, O’Neill said the County could potentially save up to $290,310 per year based on what it costs per day to house an inmate at the jail.

The program would include daily checks on the offenders and behavior modification services.

Harper said the program will be useful to offenders who don’t have the financial ability to post bail or those who are no-bond continual offenders who would qualify for electronic monitoring.

Harper said it is an ongoing group effort of the community correction advisory board, which includes her and O’Neill, Superior Court Judge Julia Jent, Sheriff David Lain, a County Commissioner, mental health associates and four citizens, to help alleviate the jail population. The issue ignited discussion among officials last month as the County received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union saying the jail overcrowding conditions are “inexcusable.”

“Everybody is working toward a solution,” said Harper.

Park grants

In other business, Commissioners approved a first reading of two separate ordinances establishing two grant funds for the County Parks Department.

A $5,000 grant was received from Arcelor-Mittal Steel, to be used for the development of outdoor and environmental education.

The other grant, awarded by the Lake Michigan Coastal Program for $31,500, will go toward physical improvements to the south prairie and pond at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

A second reading for the ordinances will be held at the Commissioners’ next meeting.

Also, Commissioners approved the contract with Motorola for new console hardware system that will enable more channels for police, fire, EMS, and emergency management to operate on. It follows the approval of purchasing the upgraded system for $907,000 with hospital interest funds from the Commissioners and the Council last month. The new equipment is expected to be operable for at least 10 years, E-911 Communications Director Jokantas said.



Posted 9/4/2013