Approving the last of the 91 County budgets for 2014 on Thursday, the Porter
County Council found itself in the red by $1.4 million.
And that doesn’t take into account the $450,000 still needed to hire nine
additional sheriff’s officers for the Porter County Jail.
The running total on the general fund kept by the Council’s budget and
financial specialist Vicki Urbanik stood at $39,454,989 at meeting’s end,
while the number aimed for was $38 million, the estimated amount available
next year in property tax draws and miscellaneous revenue.
“We’re in real trouble. We’ve got to scratch our heads some more,” said
Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At Large.
The Council talked of having to make additional cuts at its final reading
scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 22, which may mean layoffs as the Council has
trimmed budgets in all places but personnel.
But that would not solve many problems said Council member Dan Whitten, D-At
Large, because department heads have already complained of being
Fellow member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he feels it is “imperative” that the
Council holds meetings on how to invest the Porter Memorial Hospital sale
proceeds from the sale of the public county hospital to shore up funds for
the future as property values continue to slip. He also reiterated the need
to develop a comprehensive funding plan.
Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, had pitched the idea earlier
this year of placing a portion of the $160 million hospital sale proceeds
into a protected endowment fund that would generate a higher rate of
interest than other investment options, producing $5 to $10 million a year
of additional revenue for the County.
The Council and Commissioners have yet to meet jointly to discuss the
endowment but Council President Bob Poparad, D-At Large, said he will
schedule a meeting once budget sessions are over.
Meanwhile, in attempts to balance the budget, Whitten said the Council
should look to use more county economic development income tax money for
“I think we need to put all of CEDIT on the table,” he said.
The Commissioners have already offered the Council $2 million of CEDIT to
cover the jail medical staffing and the shortfall for Enhanced 911
Communications Center for the next three years.
Urbanik said she suspects there may be inaccuracies in figuring the
cumulative total since nearly all the budgets approved on second reading
were lower than the 2013 versions. The Council chopped $2 million out of the
Commissioners’ budget alone at the start of the budget meetings.
But there were a few major increases, Urbanik noted, such as the $500,000
additional to the Election Board for the 2014 countywide elections, $173,000
more in maintenance costs, a hike in employee insurance, and mandatory
raises to the adult probation department.
Urbanik, at deadline this morning, told the Tribune she added the
numbers again and while she found a minor correction, the budget still has
the roughly $1.4 million deficit. The Council has whittled down the proposed
budget figures by more than $6 million so far, she said.
Whitten said he still hopes the Council can find some way to give pay raises
to county employees.
Jail hires not approved, yet
Earlier in the meeting, the Council approved the Sheriff and Jail budgets at
$3.9 million and $2.9 million respectively but never were there enough votes
cast on several motions to hire the nine officers required to staff the
third pod at PCJ, leaving Sheriff David Lain, and a dozen or so PCSP
officers in attendance, crestfallen.
The jail budget started out with $1.2 million taken out of medical and
hospital as it will be paid for with CEDIT. But the issue arose of where the
long term funding would come from, since the Commission-er’s offer is only
good for three years.
“If we don’t have the money to put back into this budget, what would we do?”
said Whitten. “Until we’ve generated some positive money from the interest,
we are not solid.”
Lain said the jail remains overcrowded and understaffed and has been that
way since it opened more than a decade ago, as recent studies by the
Department of Corrections and the National Institute of Corrections have
In those studies, the agencies have suggested hiring as many as 12 or more
jailers, adding to the current 52, Lain said. However, nine new hires would
the “bare bones” minimum needed to staff the third pod, with 109 more beds.
Lain brought with him the executive director of sheriff and county jail
operations for the Indiana DOC, Kenneth Whipker, who said it would be his
recommendation not to open the third pod until the County has those
additional staffers in place. Nine are needed “to safely and securely man
the additional pod,” he said.
If the County fails to make the hires, it faces the possibility of a
takeover by the U.S. Department of Justice, where the County would be forced
by federal mandate to fund salaries for how many jailers the agency feels is
necessary, Whipker said. The same type of situation occurred in Lake County
a few years ago, he said.
Should an incident arise where liability is concerned, the state or federal
courts would not accept the excuse from the County of not having enough
funding to hire jail officers, Whipker said.
PCJ isn’t the only jail in Indiana facing the overcrowding issue, Whipker
said, which affects nearly 75 percent of counties.
Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, made the motion to hire the nine
officers, with Biggs seconding for discussion; but four of their colleagues
were not ready to make the jump yet, saying they want to first make sure
funding is available.
Voting for the motion were Polarek, Biggs and Council member Jeremy Rivas,
D-2nd, while Poparad, Graham, Whitten and Karen Conover, R-3rd, were
“I can’t vote for something if I don’t know where our budget stands,” Graham
Poparad and Conover said they don’t disagree with hiring the new jailers but
they’d rather vote when the Council is ready to adopt the final 2014
Whitten said even if the new jailers are brought on, it will not solve the
problem of overcrowding and said the County should be taking a longer view
of how to reduce the inmate population. As Lain mentioned, the jail is so
overcrowded that there will not even be enough beds with the third pod open.
“We could do that and still have the problem. We need a bigger plan of how
we are going to solve this,” he said.
Biggs agreed this is a “two-chapter book” and the County needs to get more
aggressive with implementing ways to lower the number of inmates.
“There is no magic bullet here,” Biggs said. “We are delaying the
inevitable. Not making a decision now is going to be far more expensive. We
know we have to come up with the money.”
From the floor, Evans made the suggestion of putting together a blue ribbon
panel of Council members, Commissioners, and County Corrections officials to
develop measures to keep more low level offenders out of the jail and in
home monitoring and similar programs instead.
As for opening the third pod physically, Evans said the money is available
from a jail refinance bond fund.
Lain said after the vote that he had hoped the Council members would have
done more due diligence, since the issue of what is needed at the jail has
“been studied to death”, adding for years he has been making them aware of
the overcrowding situation.
Safety at the jail is becoming a more pressing issue for both inmates and
staff, Lain said. He showed the Council a picture of a written note by one
of the inmates threatening to throw urine at the jailers.
“This is what we are faced with every day,” Lain said.
Rivas, near the end of the meeting, made a second motion to hire the
additional jail staff. That motion also failed, yielding the same results as
As for the other budgets Thursday, the Council approved each individual
CEDIT plan from the Commissioners which often resulted in split votes.
One of those splits was over the CEDIT plan for capital improvements, which
traditionally include $200,000 for land acquisition for the County Parks
each year. The Council stripped the line item for land acquisition as the
Parks Dept. currently has over $600,000 in its account to make land
Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said the Parks department is looking to
purchase land somewhere in the southern part of the county and said that
$600,000 should be adequate to make that purchase.
The Council voted to approve the fund minus the parks item 5-2. Dissenting
were Polarek and Rivas.
Drainage projects out of CEDIT were also reduced from $900,000 this year to
$720,000 for 2014.