Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Mike Jessen is new president of Porter County Council

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

With Republicans 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.

Republican Jeff 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.

Meanwhile, Whitten 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 Kouts.

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.

Foundation

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 non-profit groups.

The organizations 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.

Some Foundation 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.

The Foundation 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.

Appointments

The Council 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 Commission.

Council members 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.

 

Posted 1/25/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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