Chesterton Tribune



County starts guardianship program for seniors; Sheriff's pension approved

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The Porter County Council applauded Superior Court Judge William Alexa and Magistrate Katherine Forbes for using a state grant that will set up a Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults (VASIA) between Porter and LaPorte Counties for guardianship services.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Council approved, on a 7-0 vote, an additional appropriation of $10,000 in Alexa’s general fund budget to serve as the match for the grant. Alexa said the state will then give $75,000.

The VASIA program allows trained volunteers to be court-appointed guardians working with nursing homes, assisted living and other health-care organizations like Porter-Starke services. The guardians can assess situations with seniors and incapacitated adults and plan appropriate services for them if a family or other guardianship is unavailable to do so.

Alexa said part of the grant is for in-kind services such as office space and equipment. Since there is no extra room at the courthouse, two attorneys-- Don Evans and Ivan Bodensteiner -- have agreed to rent out their offices to the program and the volunteers will be trained, he said.

Forbes said this will be something that will add to the quality of life for individuals in the county. She said Adult Protective Services “gets calls all the time” from Porter County but if someone does not have a guardian, there is nothing that can be done.

Council member Jeff Larson, R-at large, said he appreciates the effort by VASIA to give help.

“Seeing those people in those facilities without representation, it’s well needed here in the community,” Larson said. “Thank you for stepping up.”

Sheriff’s Pension

Also Tuesday, the Council decided 7-0 to approve the Sheriff’s Police request for $580,000 out of its general fund budget for the second installment of the Sheriff’s pension fund this year.

The pension fund generated some debate during last fall’s budget hearings as there were several options to budget for the large expense.

Council member Dan Whitten, D-at large, motioned to use the general fund as the funding source but asked his colleagues if they felt it should come from somewhere else such as the hospital sale interest.

The County has a little over $1 million remaining in unallocated hospital interest funds, according to County Auditor Vicki Urbanik.

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, asked Urbanik if it was “safe” to take out of the General Fund which is limited by the levy the County receives in property taxes.

The Council in years past has done “a wonderful job” of keeping the general fund on track after it dips into it, Urbanik said, and she is “confident that the state would approve this.” She then added that she would caution however that it is unknown what would happen if there are any major property tax refunds or appeals this year.

Whitten said there should be some money saved up in the general fund in case it is needed for insurance. Council member Andy Bozak, R-1st, said he would like to see the fund protected and would look to hospital interest instead.

But a vote would have to wait until the Council’s next meeting to dip in to the interest fund, because that proposed appropriation would have to be legally advertised. Sheriff Business Manager Edie Hahn said the payment would need to be made this month.

The Council then approved the request from the Sheriff’s general fund.

Council President Mike Jessen, R-4th, said there should be some discussion before the next installment of which fund to draw from.

Next, the Commissioners unanimously approved Sheriff Dave Reynolds’ request to move a lieutenant from the detective bureau and make him a captain to lead the drug task force unit, then fill in the ranks in other divisions. The Sheriff’s Dept. took over drug task force from the County Prosecutor in March.

The move would involve an additional $3,584 for salaries which will be taken out of the County User Fee fund.

Portage Twp. assessor seeks new employee

It’s a busy time for the Portage Twp. Assessor Alta Neri’s office as it is racing to meet the state’s deadline for reassessment.

Neri sought to hire a new full-time worker to complete the work on time, with a salary of $35,000 before benefits. The request proposed a $4,500 additional appropriation plus a $13,000 transfer in the County’s reassessment fund, which is shared with the County Assessor’s Office.

Neri first made a request for an employee during the fall budget hearings and has recently has some staff adjustments, including a retirement. There are currently four full-time employees, including Neri.

Neri said she tried to find someone part-time but has not found anyone interested so she wants to make the position full-time to get someone quickly enough to meet the state deadline.

Urbanik said there is enough cushion in the reassessment budget to support a full-time position for now, but there is no way of knowing if it would be feasible for 2018.

A motion to accept the request failed 5-2 with Council members Larson, Bozak, Jessen, Karen Conover, R-3rd, and Sylvia Graham, D-at large, voting against. Whitten and Rivas, who are Neri’s Council liaisons, voted in favor.

Council members asked Neri a second time to hire someone part-time and come back if unsuccessful.

Stormwater update

The Council passed a motion 7-0 to allocate $300,000 requested by the Department of Development and Stormwater Management to pay for bridge and road engineering out of the cumulative bridge fund.

Whitten asked Department Director Robert Thompson about progress with projects. Thompson said time has been sparse on projects because the department has been handling an inordinate number of complaints due to excessive rain.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 180 complaints, compared to 150 the entire year of 2016, Thompson said. “We are working on a solution to that,” he added.

A few projects currently in the works include remediating drainage around Willowcreek Rd. and CR 700N with the City of Portage and implementing a new drainage system in Fieldstone Manor subdivision near the Lake of the Four Seasons, Thompson said.




Posted 5/19/2017




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