taking control of the Porter County Council for the first time in over a
decade, Council member Mike Jessen, R-4th, clinched the president’s seat at
Tuesday’s re-organizational meeting.
Jessen, who was
elected to the Council in 2014, takes the reins from Council member Dan
Whitten, D-at large. Whitten will serve as the Council’s vice-president in
2017. The Council approved both appointments unanimously.
Larson’s election to the Council this November as an at-large member gave
the Republicans a four-member majority while the Democrats retain three
seats. Also new to the Council this year is Andy Bozak, R-1st, who was
elected by a Republican caucus to take Jim Biggs’ place on the Council.
Biggs is now on the County Board of Commissioners.
Jessen told the
Chesterton Tribune the direction he intends to lead this year is to keep
communication open with the Council members as well as the Commissioners and
strive for achievements that have never been seen in the county.
State of the County
Prior to officer
elections, Whitten opened the meeting with a bird’s eye view of the County’s
fiscal health. The auditor’s office showed the County had a carry-over of
$3.4 million in its budget from last year, which he noted is larger than
years past where the figure was no bigger than $100,000.
“We’re starting the
year in pretty good shape solvency-wise,” Whitten said.
A major reason for
the success in last year’s budget was the lowered costs of health insurance.
The Council budgeted roughly $8.8 million for insurance for 2016 and ended
up expending $7.1 million, Whitten said. A typical “bad” year for insurance
would generally see more than $10 million for insurance, he added.
The County has seen
its tax rate decrease, Whitten said, while still having the ability to give
its employees raises and build a new animal shelter.
said the Council should note the state cut the Cumulative Capital
Development (CCD) fund from $3.1 million to $2.4 million. The fund had been
proposed to help pay for the County’s ambulance contract with Porter Health
Systems, at $1 million this year, rather than taking money from the hospital
sale principal that is being invested in the County’s Nonprofit Charitable
Foundation. But since CCD was cut, the Council will need to find $600,000
out of other budgets for the ambulance contract, Whitten said.
The Council also
faces the challenge this year of paying in to the Sheriff Department’s
pension fund, about $1 million. Other big ticket items Whitten mentioned
were coming up with $4.5 million over a three-year period for the
infrastructure needed to support an 800 MHz system for emergency radio
signal upgrades, a $1 million fix-up of the Administration Building
entrance, renovations to the Expo Center and developing Aukiki Park near
The County is
currently leveraging about $2.4 million out of its earned interest on the
hospital sale principal, Whitten said, using $1.3 million for insurance. The
remainder goes to aid organizations like Opportunity Enterprises, Family and
Youth Services Bureau and the Porter County Council on Aging.
Whitten said the
County will need to be fiscally conservative if it wants to make sure it
won’t be leveraging the hospital interest money any more to pay for
operations. “Any appropriations we make in the middle of the year are going
to tap into that hospital interest. We want to avoid that,” he said.
Whitten is still
chair of the Foundation and called for a meeting in February to discuss the
interest earned so far and the possibility of granting the interest money to
should tell how they would use the money so the Foundation can determine
which programs it would like to fund, Whitten said. He also suggested to let
the applicants know that the money would not be guaranteed every year.
members have said the County should consider taking care of its liabilities
first before granting money, said Whitten, adding the matter deserves a
“global conversation” at the next Foundation meeting.
“We need to have
discussions about what we want to do with that money,” he said.
consists of all members of the County Council, Board of Commissioners and
the County Treasurer. Any interest earnings reach higher than five percent
in a year would be invested back into the principal.
selected its citizen appointments this year. Thomas Swihart will be the
Council’s representative on the County Alcoholic Beverage Commission,
replacing last year’s appointment Laura Verheaghe.
Mike Young and
Scott Williams will be retained for the Board of Zoning Appeals and the
Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals, respectively.
The Council will
keep the same appointments to local economic development commissions this
year. Buck Kittredge will continue to represent the Council on the
Chesterton EDC, Mike Sarver will be on the Portage EDC and Patrick McGinley
to the Valparaiso EDC.
In Council member
appointments, Larson will be the representative for the Northwest Indiana
Regional Planning Commission. Bozak will serve on the Northern Indiana
Commuter Transportation District and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.
Karen Conover, R-3rd, will serve on the Porter County Recycling and Waste
District. Sylvia Graham, D-at large, and Larson will serve on the Emergency
Management Agency Advisory Board. Graham will serve on the Porter County
Council on Aging. Rivas will serve again on the Stormwater Advisory Board.
Jessen will serve on the E-911 Board and the County Redevelopment
also decided their liaison appointments to County departments, many taking
the same spots as the previous year.
The Council will
retain Harold Harper as its attorney and approved the contract with no
changes this year.