Riding close to the
state’s deadline, the Porter County Council approved final reading of the
2015 budgets Thursday with the anticipation they will be in the black when
the levy is set.
A narrow majority
of Council members passed the County’s general fund budgets, in a 4-3 vote.
The final figure was $36,555,207. That’s in between what the Auditor’s
office and County Financial and Budget Specialist Vicki Urbanik had forecast
in property tax revenue coming from the state. Estimates were in the range
of $36.3 million to $36.8 million.
“It is within our
projections, which is good,” Urbanik said.
Budgets in the
general fund as they were initially submitted to the Council totaled about
$41.2 million. The Council worked to reduce budgets to reach their goal of
$36.5 million. The largest adjustment was to the County Commissioners
budget, which started at $16.1 million and was cut down to $11.2 million.
general fund budget contains a little more than $4 million for employee
health insurance. Using a combination of hospital interest, CEDIT and
non-general fund money, the health insurance is expected to be fully funded
at about $9 million.
The Council split
on the motion to accept the budgets at $36.5 million, with Council President
Dan Whitten, D-at large, Council Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd,
members Sylvia Graham, D-at large, and Robert Poparad approving. Votes of
“no” came from members Jim Biggs, R-1st, Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Jim
Following, a vote
of 6-1 on the non-general fund budgets saw Polarek voting no. The total
amount for those funds came to $42.1 million.
Whitten was curious
why those dissenting were opposed to an otherwise balanced budget. Polarek
said he wouldn’t agree to pass a budget not knowing if there would be enough
to cover health insurance. Biggs said that for the last five years, the
County has spent more money than it has taken in. He said he saw nothing
from the Commissioners “that assures we are going to run cleaner and
Rivas said he could
not give his blessing because the Council would be taking away from reserve
funds that are drying up. “We’re at the end of the road. My vote is symbolic
of that,” Rivas said.
During the meeting,
the Council found itself contemplating whether employee raises could be
given next year. There was still an issue though of how to fund for
longevity pay now that the once healthy Casino Revenue fund no longer can
support the two installments.
Biggs said he
wishes employee raises were feasible, but advised it would be better to wait
since the Council is taking big steps with the insurance and creation of a
human resources department. He said he felt greater concern for finding
enough funding for the Sheriff’s Department pensions and the E-911
work policies and bidding out the health insurance carrier could make an
impact but that won’t be seen until next year, Biggs said.
Whitten added that
more revenue could be available in the next 12 months if the County gets
going on establishing the Foundation to invest proceeds from the sale of
Porter Memorial Hospital.