Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County Council to tell offices to cut budgets by 10 percent

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Council members are setting their sights already on budget work for 2015 by notifying government department heads to scale their general fund budgets back by 10 percent of their current budgets.

Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large will be sending the letter telling that the cuts will need to be presented to the Council by its next meeting on June 24 and they cannot decide the cuts on their own, members of the Council will work with them.

The general fund budget started the year already in a shortfall by about $5 million after the state certified the levy and an even bigger gap is expected for next year.

“This year’s budget hearings are going to be rougher than anything we’ve ever experienced (in the past),” Whitten said. “We’re not talking about a three-year plan here. We’re talking about just getting through 2015.”

Even with the interest money on funds from the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital, the amount generated is not enough to make up for the plummeting property tax revenues, Whitten said. “The well is drying up.”

Department heads will be encouraged to work with their Council liaisons so they can have some of the issues worked out before budget hearings begin, usually in the early fall.

Council members did not say anything specific they would recommend departments cut. Some have already made cuts, such as the County Auditor’s office which has reduced its personnel.

One of the actions Whitten suggested was to meet with the County Commissioners, since many of the general fund budgets fall under their purview. He said he’s read in recent news articles that the Commissioners are feeling pinched on funds and would like to know their situation.

The Commissioners also have control of the CEDIT fund projects which utilize County income tax dollars. Whitten said that he believes all of CEDIT “needs to be on the table” in trying to keep county budgets operating in the black which means there will need to be prioritization.

The Council formed a group consisting of Whitten, Council Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd, and Sylvia Graham, D-at large, charged with working in step with the Commissioners on their 2015 budgets.

One of the biggest gaps is funding for the County’s employee health plan, which is currently underfunded. Council member Robert Poparad, D-at large, said he would be interested in discussing with the Commissioners changes that could be made to mitigate costs.

County Auditor Robert Wichlinski said departments can enter their budgets into the state’s Gateway system where the Council or anyone could view it. The system collects and provides information about how tax dollars are budgeted. County auditor offices are also required to submit all budgets to the Gateway system by the end of the year.

While the information is online, the Council’s budget specialist Vicki Urbanik said in her dealings with the county’s departments some say they do not know what their budget is.

Council members like Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, were baffled as to how the departments might not know their own budgets since they work within them on a daily basis.

Wichlinski said he gives departments copies of their budget for the year and if they need another copy they can come see him.

Urbanik also advised the Council that departments might try to rely on non-general fund sources in reducing those tied to the general fund. Poparad said that should not be ignored as those funds are not unlimited.

 

 

Posted 5/29/2014