Chesterton Tribune



County Council finds funding to keep 911 operating

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It looks like Porter County’s 911 Communications Center will make it through 2014 after all.

The County Council on Thursday approved moving several large dollar amounts out of the 911 rainy day funds to the general fund budget so the rainy day funds can continue being a source of income.

If the budgets were unmoved, 911 Communications Director John Jokantas said the rainy day fund would be zeroed out by next August, but with the changes, and some help from the County Commissioners, he expects some money will be left for 2015.

About $350,000 was put into the general fund to cover employee’s PERF and FICA insurance and another $350,000 from the telephone fund.

The Council voted 6-0 to approve the adjustments contingent on the Commissioners’ offer of allocating a portion of county economic development income tax dollars toward 911 for the next three years.

Council President Bob Poparad, D-At Large, said the Commissioners have offered the Council $2 million in unallocated CEDIT with $800,000 of that for 911 through 2016.

Also, as they did on Tuesday with the Commissioner’s general fund budget, the Council looked over each line item and made reductions to those that had healthy balances this year bringing the 911 general fund budget to $408,501 when it had been advertised at $565,501.

Some items increased, however, such as contractual services which would jump $19,000 in hopes of earning an accreditation status that would cut down on liability and place a few more generators at radio sites.

While the CEDIT money will keep the numbers in the black for now, Jokantas said he would like to have a more permanent source of funding.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he would like to see an operations plan put together in the next few months with the Commissioners on funding beyond next year. With the rainy day fund extended into next year, that will buy officials some more time to find a solution, Biggs said.

Biggs also said he would like to begin discussions on making the Town of Porter’s dispatch center into the county’s second public safety answering point, required by the state.

Also approved 6-0 was the second reading of the 911 surcharge budget which pays for employees’ salaries and hourly pay at a total of $1.7 million.

Absent from the meeting was Council member Dan Whitten, D-At Large.

Jokantas said he has 48 people on his staff currently, which makes the county one of the few in the nation to have that staff size, in terms of county population.

“We’re very lucky to be where we are at right now,” Jokantas said.

Social services

Meanwhile, the Council is also waiting to hear if the Commissioners will join them in a plan to use hospital interest money to cover requests from social service agencies like Opportunity Enterprises, Family & Youth Services Bureau, Council on Aging and Community Services and Porter-Starke Services.

The Council agreed 6-0 on the intention of supporting the agencies with the same level of general fund money they received last year -- $700,000 to OE, $250,000 for ACS, and $500,000 to FYSB -- and also to sustain what they receive currently in hospital interest money for the next three years ($50,000 for OE, $120,000 for ACS and $100,000 for FYSB).

Using hospital interest funds requires majority votes from both the Council and the Commissioners.

The Council also signed off 6-0 on paying out $1,859,069 for Porter-Starke but raised the question if the County should capture Porter-Starke’s levy within its general fund with the concern that it may be too big of a hit to the fund while the concept of using hospital interest money is also questionable because those funds are limited and are not a permanent funding solution.

Poparad said Porter-Starke will receive their funds as counties are statutorily required to fund mental health.

“You are going to get your money whatever happens,” Poparad said.

Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, explained to Porter-Starke CEO Rocco Schiralli and CFO Mary Idestein the financial difficulties put on the County due to tax caps but inquired if there were ways for the two entities to find some “flexibility” in the intensive outpatient program at the County Jail.

Schiralli said he understands the difficulties and agreed collaboration would be mutually beneficial.

“We are willing to work with you on the issue,” said Schiralli.

Also, Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, opened the discussion of reaching out to help FYSB at its Portage location as he noticed the organization is attempting to sell space to earn back some funding.

FYSB Director Lisa Jordan said the organization is paying a mortgage on the building located at the Central Ave. and Airport Rd. It has 2,000 sq. ft. of space it operates inside the roughly 6,000 sq. ft. and has room available to rent.

Poparad said maybe an agreement could be made with the Commissioners on renting space to help FYSB stay in that building by moving some government offices to that location.

Jordan said FYSB intends to stay in Portage. The state continues to slash its budget for its healthy families program, she said. It no longer receives federal funding and the heart of its operations comes from the yearly subsidy from the County.

Other Budgets

The Council slashed other budgets’ line items that have money left over in their balances for the year.

The Council cut all salary increases department heads proposed in their advertised budgets and will determine at final reading if raises can be given.

Departments are also having their office supply funds reduced to $0 as the Commissioner’s office is said to be handling all related purchasing through its administrative assistant.

At the end of the meeting, Council budget and financial specialist Vicki Urbanik said the running tab of the general fund so far is $22.5 million but the Council has not yet made it to some of its larger items including the Jail and Sheriff’s Department. The Council has nearly $39 million available in its tax draws and miscellaneous revenues, she said, and the proposed general fund is being trimmed down from its $46 million total.

Highlights from Thursday include:

-- The Prosecutor’s IV-D court proposed a salary raise of $50,000 among its 15 employees out of its incentive fund. County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said the court receives incentive funds from a federal program that rewards those who have shown good performance. Gensel said the court this year will collect approximately $14 million in child support payments through the efforts of its employees. The Council approved the additional money but Poparad requested Gensel provide the council a list of how the raises will be divided.

-- The Animal Shelter’s general fund budget was approved at $357,239 for second reading with an additional of $1,000 for building maintenance. Funding for part-time hourly work and veterinary services will remain the same as in 2013.

Shelter Director Jon Thomas said the facility sees eight to ten regular volunteers.

-- The County Parks was approved $14,000 in program supplies out of its operating budget for camp programs next year. The Council set the budgets consulting line item at $9,000 instead of the proposed $11,000 which Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said will be utilized for trail design at Brincka-Cross Gardens and a redesign of the playground at Sunset Hill Farm. Lenckos was told he could come back if he needed more money.

Biggs also asked Lenckos to submit to the Council an operations plan for the proposed Raise the Barn activity center at the beginning of next year and asked that include information on other government offices that are going to be moving there, such as the Recycling and Waste Reduction District.

-- The Treasurer and Assessor’s office increased their maintenance agreement and contractual line items as they are no longer using the auditor’s non-reverting fund to pay for those expenses, which were part of the Total Quality Management Program funded by revenues collected from homestead violations.



Posted 9/20/2013