Chesterton Tribune



New Auditor cuts consultant costs; Commissioners raise inmate fee

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Porter County Auditor Vicki Urbanik said her office will continue efforts to recoup tax revenues from homestead credit violators, as did as her predecessor Bob Wichlinski, but the work will be carried out without the help of consultants.

At Wednesday’s County Board of Commissioners meeting Urbanik detailed changes she has made in the department’s 2015 budget originally submitted by Wichlinski and approved by the County Council during last fall’s County budget hearings.

She said she will not be renewing two consultant contracts costing $90,000 each Wichlinski had planned to pay for out of the auditor’s non-reverting fund.

One was for a financial advisor and the other was for investigating homestead credit fraud.

Urbanik pushed for two new contracts out of the non-reverting fund that would cost far less than the consultants.

One was for a legal counsel at a not-to-exceed $75,000 amount with an hourly rate of $120 per hour to provide assistance in homestead cases on an as-needed basis. The attorney is Adam Mindel of Rhame and Elwood LLC in Portage, which is a switch from Valparaiso attorney John Schmaltz, who Wichlinski had hired in previous years.

The other contract was with Umbaugh and Associates for a not-to-exceed amount of $10,000. The firm, which is a certified public accountant, will work with auditor employees on several matters including tax abatement work and resolving other accounting issues that Urbanik discovered when she came into office in January, such as complications with state highway funds.

The Board of Commissioners split 2-1 in approving new contracts with Commissioners John Evans, R-North, and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, in favor of the changes, while Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center was opposed.

Good asked why the expenses were necessary and said questions have been raised before by the County Council on spending out of the non-reverting fund.

Urbanik said the Council had already approved the auditor’s budget at the higher figure and her plan was to spend less money moving forward with the two new contracts than what would have been paid to consultants.

She is also reducing a contract that gave unlimited data to office iPads.

Urbanik later told the Chesterton Tribune that she has designated one full time worker to take the lead on checking for violators of homestead credit and other tax deductions, along with some part-time help to assist the employee. She said a consultant may be sought out again but it is possible that there might not be much revenue left to recoup.

Porter County is one of a few counties in Indiana that is taking time to investigate homestead credit compliance, she added.

The office is also trying to catch up on abatement work for properties such as Porter Regional Hospital. Urbanik said one of the employee positions eliminated last year in the office restructuring was one which specialized in abatement work.

“We’re trying get a whole year of work done in two and a half months,” she said.

Also on Wednesday, Urbanik told the Commissioners that space in her office has been opened up for the new human resources department.

Booking fee tripled

Also on Wednesday, the Commissioners voted 3-0 on first reading to approve an amendment to its ordinance establishing a processing fee for inmates at Porter County Jail.

The fee would be boosted to $75, which is three times the current fee.

Revenues are allocated to Porter-Starke Services, which gives counseling to jail inmates who struggle with substance abuse. According to Sheriff Dave Reynolds, more than 75 percent of men and women at the jail struggle with those issues.

Reynolds said the fee has had hard time keeping up since changes in state law said the fee can only be charged if a person is convicted. The jail is currently unable to pay for the current contract with Porter-Starke, at $110,000 per year. “I don’t want to lose these programs. I think this is something we need to do,” he said.

An additional issue has been keeping track of the inmates who do not pay the fee. Reynolds said he has spoken with the judges asking that they mention the fee in their court orders.

No one made comments during a public hearing for the amendment. A second reading will be held at the Commissioners’ next meeting in March.


Posted 2/20/2015




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