Chesterton Tribune



Commissioners punt high speed rail funding to Council

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The decision of whether Porter County will help fund a three-state effort for a high speed passenger train line from Chicago to Ohio will be up the County Council.

The request to partner with other local governments by the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association was supported by all three County Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday, but Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said the $20,000 would have to be taken out of unallocated CEDIT funds appropriated by the Council.

Any new additional funding requests have been challenged by the Council as costs surpass incoming revenue in the County’s budget and CEDIT moneys have been used to plug the hole.

“We’re in quite a funding crunch,” Evans said.

Representatives of NIPRA said the $20,000 from the County plus a $50,000 commitment from the City of Valparaiso would be used for a $2 million local match to begin an environmental impact study. Once the study is complete, the Federal Railroad Administration looks to fund construction on the $1 billion project and create thousands of construction jobs.

Passenger trains could travel from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio in less than four hours, according to NIPRA. One of the planned stops is in Valparaiso.

NIPRA has visited county commissions and cities in northern Indiana where the rail would pass through to see if they will help fund the project.

Voting on the measure were Evans and Commissioners Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South.

“We’ve talked about it and we would not like to be the only entity that does not participate,” Evans said.

Jail pod

In other matters, Sheriff David Lain told the Commissioners that the Indiana Department of Corrections has certified the opening of the B pod at the Porter County Jail, adding 109 beds to ease crowded conditions.

“It is up to their standards,” Lain said.

The Jail has undergone renovation since early March and the County spent $234,000 in the process. The pod was recently toured by the state jail inspector.

Originally to open in April, Lain said delays occurred because of officers leaving their jobs. New hires require about seven weeks of training.

The nine new jail officers have been hired, Lain said, but four will need to undergo training. He expects the B pod will be in operation by the end of this month or early June.

The funding for the new officers, $450,000 was approved by the County Council last year.

Evans told Lain that the air conditioning system at the jail has been replaced as part of other renovations for the jail.

“I’m sure our 420 inmates appreciate that,” Lain said.

The Commissioners also approved a contract with Stellar Services Commissary for a new kiosk in the jail’s booking area making it easier for receiving inmate deposits. Lain said this will mean less handling of money by his staff.

Evans asked if there will be any problems for inmates getting back their money. Lain said the money is refunded on a debit card system.

The contract is at no additional cost to the County as Stellar Services will be able to collect service fees.

Economic Development District

The Commissioners signed off on a resolution to include Porter County in the Northwest Indiana Economic Development District created in part by the Northwest Indiana Forum.

NWI Forum’s new CEO and President Heather Ennis presented the resolution that would make the County eligible for federal grants from the Economic Development Administration.

Ennis said it is not known at this time how much the County could receive but the money granted would promote private-public partnerships and readying economic development projects.

The NWIEDD was started in 2009 and is putting together a comprehensive economic development strategy plan for the counties of Porter, LaPorte and Lake, Ennis said.

Investment RFP

Also on Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners ordered up a Request for Proposals seeking an investment advisor.

As the County Council recently put out a similar request for the $159 million in prodeeds from the sale of Porter Meorial Hospital, this would be an advisor strictly for the County Board of Finance which is comprised of the Commissioners and County Treasurer Mike Bucko.

The advisor sought is one who has experience with clients who have more than $150 million in their portfolio.

Evans said that this does not mean that the Commissioners are moving in one direction for the hospital money, but are seeking to learn what other option they have for investing that money.

Bucko said he wants to find what investment method has “the least amount of exposure and the best yields.”

The Commissioners also gave the nod to Bucko’s request to approve the tax sale support contract with SRI for this year. The company, based in Indianapolis, will collect a $70 fee for each parcel.

Road projects

Highway Superintendent Al Hoagland told the Commissioners he will ask the County Council if he can use $750,000 of the Major Moves money for road projects and construction of a concrete foundation for a snow dome near the Town of Hebron.

Hoagland at a previous Commissioner meeting talked about using CEDIT for the dome but felt that Major Moves allocations would be a better option since CEDIT is being used to close funding gaps in the County budget.

The Major Moves money comes from the state’s sale of the toll road and $500,000 would be for road repair due to damages from winter storms while $250,000 would be for the dome, Hoagland said. The dome is needed, he said, because the state has mandated that salt be covered.

“We’re going to need every road dollar we’ve got this year,” Hoagland said.

The Council is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, May 28.

Can’t beat a dollar

Meanwhile, the Commissioners approved a new contract with Porter-Starke Services for new wellness programs for County employees.

The cost for the service: $1.

Blaney thanked Porter-Starke for its “willingness” to provide the service at a bargain price.


Posted 5/14/2014