Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Public can speak out on county budget Wednesday

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, the Porter County Council will begin its annual task of setting the county budgets for the upcoming year, with a first reading and public hearing.

The Council will meet in the Commissioner Chambers, Room 205 of the County Administration Building, 155 Indiana Ave., Valparaiso, beginning with first reading of budget estimates which was advertised last month in the Chesterton Tribune.

Notable items include $46,255,237 for the County’s General Fund which is derived primarily from property tax levies to fund operations and salaries, $2,691,354 in Rainy Day funds, $4,823,397 for Highway Funds, $3,400,000 for the Cumulative Capital Development Fund, $1,150,000 in the Major Moves fund from the state’s toll road sale, $1,343,356 for the County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission, supported by the Innkeepers Tax, $326,000 for Emergency Medical Services, $990,394 for Solid Waste Management which is collected by a user fee, $731,551 for the Planning Commission which is supported by building permit fees, and $15,000 in a fund for care to jail inmates.

Numbers are likely to change when they are certified by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, according to the County Council’s new budget and financial specialist Vicki Urbanik. Budget estimates for levied funds like the General Fund are usually advertised higher than expected in order to capture the maximum levy set by the state, she said.

For example, the 2013 budget estimate for the General Fund was advertised last year at $47,920,000 but the DLGF certified the budget at $38,003,146 with a certified levy of $30,584,632.

The advertised budgets for 2014 levied funds are generally lower than last year due to the effect of the circuit breaker tax caps.

Also, Urbanik mentioned that the assessed valuation growth quotient calculated by the DLGF for property tax levies in 2014 will be 2.6 percent based on a six-year rolling average for non-farm income in Indiana.

That’s less than last year’s growth quotient of 2.8 percent, Urbanik said, but it is likely to increase for 2015 as the economy is still rebounding from the recent recession.

CEDIT amounts

One bit of good news is the County Economic Development Income Tax revenue for 2014, which the DLGF has already released, is set to increase by $320,288 over this year, Urbanik said, to $4,831,678.

According to 2014 CEDIT figures, Porter County as a whole is to receive a distribution of $23,188,416 which is $1,537,140 more than 2012, a seven percent increase. Half of that amount is used for the county’s membership dues of $3.5 million annually to the RDA and homestead credits. The other half is shared between the County Government and the other municipalities based on population.

County Government receives the largest share with 41.6 percent. For Duneland, Chesterton is to receive $921,932 in CEDIT revenue (about 8 percent), the Town of Porter at $342,726 (about 3 percent), Burns Harbor at $81,554 (.7 percent), Beverly Shores at $43,246 (.37 percent) and Dune Acres at $12,839 (.11 percent).

County Council members such as Jim Biggs, R-1st, Dan Whitten, D-at large, and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, have mentioned the County will be looking to use CEDIT funds to help close some of the funding gaps created by the property tax caps.

The County Commissioners at their meeting last week announced they will offer $2 million in CEDIT for the Council as part of their initiative to hire more jailers at the overcrowded county jail.

Sheriff David Lain said he will seek nine more jail officers in his budget for next year to operate the third pod at PCJ. The County attorney’s office received a letter from an attorney representing the American Civil Liberties Union indicating that the County has six months to make “a good faith effort” in making improvements or the Department of Correction could take legal action against the County.

The jail is one of the so-called “big ticket items” the Council has named in what is shaping up to be a challenging year with additional matters such as keeping the Enhanced 911 Communications Center budget in the black, since it is expected it will no longer be able to rely on its rainy day fund beyond next summer.

Other topics weighing on the Council’s minds are ongoing drainage improvement projects and the climbing costs of health insurance.

Besides the jailer positions, the Sheriff is seeking two additional full-time employees in his budget which is to be supported by the general fund. The Commissioners are also asking to move their administrative assistant from part-time to full-time and a new full-time employee is also being sought by the County Courts.

Two new full-time employees are being sought in non-general fund budgets, one employee for E-911 and the other for juvenile probation.

Review of municipal budgets

Wednesday’s first reading will include a non-binding review of all 12 township trustee budgets, the Civil City and Town budgets such as Chesterton Civil Town, Burns Harbor Civil Town and Porter Civil Town.

The Council is also to give non-binding review for the Porter County Public Library System, Westchester Public Library System, West Porter Twp. Fire Protection District, Damon Run Conservancy District, Indian Boundary Conservancy District, Nature Works Conservancy District, Twin Creeks and White Oaks Conservancy District, and the Valparaiso Area Lakes Conservancy District.

Special meeting

To develop solutions to these funding obstacles, the Council has scheduled a joint discussion meeting with the County Commissioners and interested parties for this Thursday, Sept. 12, at 5 p.m., in preparation for second readings, which will start on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Revised schedule

With the special meeting replacing a second reading meeting originally scheduled for Sept. 12., the Council shuffled the days it planned to meet.

According to the Council revised schedule, second readings will kick off on Sept. 17 with a review of the Commissioners’ budgets including CEDIT plans, hospital interest money, hospital proceeds, the Sheriff’s Department, and all budgets related to PCJ and County Corrections.

Thursday, Sept. 19, will start with a first reading and public hearing for the Porter County Regional Airport budget, hospital sale proceeds and interest funds, Recycling and Waste District, and the West Porter Twp. Fire Protection District.

Then a second reading will take place for the following budgets -- Enhanced 911 general and rainy day funds, all funds associated with the County Prosecutor’s office, Extension Office, Coroner, Weights and Measures, Veterans Services, Soil and Water, Parks and Recreation, County Assessor, ITS Department, County Treasurer, Reassessment, Portage Twp. Assessor, County Recorder, the Animal Shelter, County Auditor and non-profit services, including Opportunity Enterprises, Porter-Starke Services, Family & Youth Services Bureau and Porter County Aging and Community Services.

The County Courts System will dominate the next session of second readings on Wednesday, Sept. 25, with the Public Defender, Superior Courts 1-6, IV-D Court, Circuit Court Grant, Juvenile Detention Center, Juvenile Probation, Adult Probation, Voters Registration and the Election Board.

Then on Thursday, Sept. 26, the Council will continue with the last batch of second readings, this time for the County Highway Department, Porter County Regional Airport, Planning Commission, the Memorial Opera House, Expo Center, Emergency Management Agency, Hazardous Substance, County Surveyor, Drainage Board, the County Health Department, and the Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission.

Final adoption for the 2014 Porter County Budget and Salary Ordinance is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 2.

All sessions begin at 5 p.m. in the Commissioners’ Chambers.

 

Posted 9/10/2013