The newly revamped Porter County Website, which can alert residents of road
closures, tax information, board meetings and available job postings within
the County departments, is a hit with the public.
Despite its popularity, a few members of the County Council were hesitant
Tuesday to throw their support behind a $75,597 bill for the upgrades paid
to site developer CivicPlus with a transfer from the County’s cable
The Council did approve the measure with a unanimous 5-0 vote after County
IT Director Sharon Lippens said the site will make it easier for residents
to access government. She added that having a “plethora” of tools and
information available online will cut down on long lines at the County
Administration Building and make it more accommodating for those without a
“It’s our way of interacting with the public in a way that’s more
convenient,” Lippens said.
But Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, expressed irritation that the fact that
the contract with CivicPlus had already been approved by the County
Commissioners nearly a year ago without approaching the Council about
appropriating the funding first, although he would agree that the County
needs to keep up with technology.
“I think it’s a wonderful project but we cannot be spending money like this
right now,” he said.
Biggs has openly criticized spending by the Commissioners while the Council
has the job of coming up with funding solutions for operations like County
E-911 and the jail overcrowding while incoming tax revenues are dwindling in
the County’s general fund due to tax caps. The continual maintenance cost
for CivicPlus will be about $12,000 a year.
“Where does it end? I just can’t explain the logic,” Biggs said.
County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, said the work for the website was
to be paid for with funds from county economic development income tax
dollars but CEDIT projects had been shifted around by the Council earlier
Biggs said he would have liked to have seen the website upgrades done
in-house but Lippens said it would have cost the County more to buy the
software and to do the labor in-house.
Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, said she was “not so comfortable”
with how the new site could be a burden on the departments. Lippens said
that department heads had the option of maintaining their own webpages, or
could leave it to the IT Department if they were not comfortable with the
work, but “all departments are represented” on the site.
A few departments such as the County Assessor have their own websites. The
County Parks, Memorial Opera House, the Museum of History, and the Expo
Center have been running on a server operated by the tourism bureau and some
have expressed interest in returning to the County’s own server, Lippens
said. If those departments are added on, it would not increase the cost of
the contract with CivicPlus, she said.
Council President Bob Poparad, D-At Large, said he would like to see all
departments on the main server.
In a related matter, the Council approved a new server administrator in the
IT Department after Lippens had made the request at least three times
previously, saying the workload has built up now that more departments such
as the Expo Center and the Opera House, which had been maintained by their
former director Brian Schafer, are requesting aid from her and her staff.
Lippens said issues with computer viruses are becoming more common and they
are cutting into the time available for projects such as the transition
underway to move the County Courts onto the state’s Odyssey case management
Lippens said that the department had eliminated two full time positions in
2008 which has netted a savings of about $227,000 since but hiring a new
administrator is now needed because the technology has changed so much since
and a lot of her work is now “interlaced” with the other departments who
operate primarily by computer.
“If they don’t have a computer, they can’t do their jobs,” said Lippens.
Biggs said that there are county departments that can be more “lean” but the
IT department is not one of them if they are to continue improving county
services. Graham added that “times have changed and we must move on.”
The Council approved the position with a 5-0 vote.
Because the request had been stalled, Lippens said she needed only $20,000
to cover the salary for the rest of the year, instead of the original
Lippens reminded the Council that the salary could be reimbursed up to 50
percent from the state due to the position’s involvement with servicing the
County’s IV-D court.
In other business, the Council approved funding for a full time secretary in
the County’s Drug Court, with about $16,000 in salaries from a federal grant
received and another $14,883 in salaries from the family court donation fund
that would be good for two years. The vote was 4-1 with Graham dissenting.
Absent from the meeting were Council members Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Dan
Whitten, D-At Large
Fall budget hearings
Lastly, Poparad set tentative dates for the Council’s annual budget work.
A first reading will kick things off on Wednesday, Sept. 11, with a
non-binding review of the municipal budgets. Dates for second readings
include Sept. 12, 18, 19, 25, 26, with final review and approval aimed for
Oct. 2. All meetings will start at 5 p.m., Poparad said.