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Porter County Council splits on Recycling District and Expo Center budgets

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Council on Tuesday voted 4-1 to approve a budget for the Waste Reduction and Recycling District (WRRD) that reflected a $5 fee increase to county property owners and businesses.

Last week, the Board of Directors for the WRRD voted in favor of raising the yearly fee from $15 to $20, which would bring in an additional $408,000. This will be the first year that businesses will pay the fee.

The District’s Executive Director Therese Davis told the Council that the fee will go forward as decided by her board and does not require a vote from the Council to be enacted. However, the Council still has a say over how the money will be budgeted next year.

The fee increase, Davis said, is to meet a higher demand by the public for services, such as hosting twice as many hazardous waste collection events so there is a shorter time for participants to stand in line. The new revenue will be utilized to purchase a new tub grinder for all communities in Porter County to use to dispose of brush. That would bring savings for those communities, reducing the need to hire outside help to do the grinding, she said.

A full-time operator will also be hired to transport the grinder, Davis added. The district will be responsible for paying regular maintenance on the grinder, which will be covered by the extra revenue, Davis said, as well as a new pole shed to be built to hold equipment at about $500,000.

Dissenting on the vote to accept the WRRD’s 2015 budget at $1,318,724, a $333,000 increase over the approved 2014 budget, was Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, who said she did not want to see a tax hike added to the potential of a monthly stormwater fee on county property owners.

Absent from the vote were Council members Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Robert Poparad, D-at large.

Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said after hearing the questions by his colleagues, if the Council had been the body to have final say on the fee increase, “it probably wouldn’t have” gone through.

The WRRD gets its operating money from the fee and is not part of the County’s General Fund, as were most of budgets in Tuesday’s second readings.

Expo Center

In another matter, Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, was the sole “no” vote on the approval of the proposed budget for the Expo Center.

The Center operates on its own income, but the proposed total figure of $489,000 was something Whitten also questioned, since the current revenue estimate is about $400,000 for this year.

“What changes are you going to make to generate revenue?” Whitten asked Expo office manager Debbie Garner, who was joined by County Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South.

The Expo Center will have a beefier marketing plan for 2015, making more use of social media, Garner said. Blaney said more revenue will flow in over the next few months as the event schedule fills up toward the holidays.

Council Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd, said the Expo Center stays “busier than busy” using its slow times as opportunities to promote future events.

Biggs said his concern was having a full-time assistant manager hired when the center had been operating without a full-time director for a large part of last year. The center also employs a full-time administrative assistant.

Blaney said having those three full-time employees is vital for handling the tasks needed to generate the revenue to sustain the budget.

Biggs also drew attention to the fact that this year employees at the center did not notice that a maintenance worker shared with the sheriff’s department was being overpaid.

Whitten said there “have been errors” but the issue of the overpaid worker has been resolved and the money has been refunded.

A majority of the Council voted yes on the budget for the Expo at $450,000, and directors could come back for an appropriation if their revenue exceeds that figure.

Plan Commission, Surveyor

budgets reduced

Meanwhile, the budgets for the Plan Commission and the County Surveyor were approved at figures less than the current year.

The Plan Commission is losing a planner and a permit input position next year. The Building Inspector will retire in January and the annual salary will be reduced from $41,000 to $38,000.

The Council voted 5-0 to accept a budget of $657,264, which is comparatively less than the amount approved for last year, $731,551.

County Planner Kristy Marasco said the budget is “getting tighter” as fewer building permits are being issued.

The County Surveyor’s office trimmed their general fund budget from $197,200 to $177,412, to fulfill the Council’s request to trim budgets by 10 percent.

“It’s got to be done for the whole county,” said County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke.

 

 

Posted 9/24/2014

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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