Chesterton Tribune



Evans eyes endowment fund for hospital sale money

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A particularly short Porter County Commissioners meeting closed Tuesday with a special request from Commissioner President John Evans, R-North.

He said that “seven years is long enough” and he wants to see the sale money from Porter Memorial Hospital be put to good use instead of having it “sit idly and not have it working for us.”

Evans asked the County Council’s administrative assistant to send word to the members that a joint meeting will be held Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. inviting them and all “interested parties” to join in a discussion of setting up a protected endowment that could be a big part of overcoming the County’s current financial hurdles.

One matter Evans wants the two boards to decide is how much of the sale principal would go into the endowment. If $100 million is placed in the endowment, he said it could generate up to $5 million annually to make up some of the holes to the General Fund budget. The original amount would remain intact, he continued.

The principal from the sale amounts to roughly $160 million while the interest generated comes to more than $11 million, according to the County Treasurer’s office.

For a while, County officials have sought ways to gain a higher rate of interest for the sale money. Treasurer Mike Bucko has said it could be a few years or more before interest rates bounce back from their slump.

Since the endowment will be invested in perpetuity, it has a chance of gaining more interest than other investment accounts.

With the interest, the County could reduce the County’s annual budget by $2 million to $3 million, Evans estimated, as it would supply the funds traditionally given to non-profit service agencies. For the past two years, $270,000 has been earmarked for the Council on Aging, Opportunity Enterprises, and Family and Youth Services Bureau, funds which have come from interest earned off the hospital sale principal.

“As we all know by now,” Evans said, the county’s ordinances mandate that tapping the sale principal fund requires a unanimous vote from both the board of commissioners and the County Council (only majority votes are required to dip into the fund holding the interest made off the hospital sale). However, the Commissioners could write a new ordinance superseding that in order to gain command of the funds to create the endowment.

County elected officials for years have circulated different suggestions on how the money could be used, Evans continued, but have yet to put anything into action.

“The time for conversation has passed. The time to do something is here,” he said.

Officials will deliberate how the hospital money should be administered after the presentation portion of the Aug. 6 meeting.

The County agreed to sell the hospital to the Tennessee-based Community Health Systems in April 2007. Officials agreed to a five-year restriction on the hospital sale proceeds fund which became available after Porter Regional Hospital opened its doors last August.

Council president Bob Poparad (D-At-Large) told the Tribune today he looks forward to hearing the presentation and will keep an open mind about use of the endowment.

Jail contract

Also, Sheriff Dave Lain announced the contract with Correct Care Systems Š the firm he recommended as the new medical provider for the county jail Š is not quite ready for approval by the Commissioners, but will be soon.

Lain said expects to be ready by the Commissioners’ July 2 meeting.

The Commissioners unanimously approved Lain’s request for upgrades to the Sheriff’s Department commercial broadband system for $485 a month with the Northwest Indiana Telephone Company (NITCO).

Lain said this would bring the department in line with state recommendations for broadband and will improve use of mobile data units for police vehicles.

New health department site

In other business, the commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding with Porter Health Systems to run a fiber optics cable between the Portage Hospital and the adjacent former physician office that has been leased as the new satellite location for the County Health Department.

At the request of ITS Director Sharron Lippens, a cable will be purchased for $8,665 from Martell Electrics LLC in South Bend with CCD funds.

Lippens said the set-up at the new site is “about completed.” A lease between the County and Porter Health started on June 1 for $1,521 per month after moving the health department out of the North County Complex on Willowcreek Rd.

On a somewhat similar note, County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, said she has been working with the ITS department on the final stages of the new county website which she said is expected to be launched on July 11.

The new features will direct visitors where to go with questions they have right on the home page, Adams said. Department heads will be able take care of their own pages and post information at their will. There will also be a portal where citizens can submit their concerns and get answers. “We want it to be as easy as possible,” Adams said.

Adams said more information about the website will be coming in a press release.



Posted 6/20/2013