After seven budget meetings spanning six weeks and totaling nearly 24 hours
of time, the Porter County Council found itself with a 2012 budget in excess
of $40 million.
It was an unacceptable increase from last year’s $35.8 million for all of
the council members in attendance.
The solution was to flatline the budget to 2011’s figures. The measure,
which was approved 6-0 with Karen Conover absent, erased most of the results
from the second hearing sessions, including raises and the two percent bonus
for county employees.
“It’s sad, but it’s reality,” council vice president Jim Biggs said. “We
need to slow down and err on the side of caution. We need to get the
strategic plan in place and get our arms around where all of this is going.”
The exact figures for the 2012 budget will still have to be calculated, but
the total should be close to $37 million and just under the average growth
estimate provided by the auditor’s office, meaning the county’s recurring
expenses will not exceed the amount of money it expects to bring in.
Several council members acknowledged the healthy surplus Porter County has
banked and didn’t use at this time, but refused to start on the dangerous
path of budgeting in excess of the county’s income.
“I’m sure there is going to be a lot of backlash, but Porter County has
always been a conservative county,” council president Dan Whitten said.
“That’s how we have built this surplus. We take a lot of pride in that. And
we are not going to have to go to department heads and tell them to lay
Two of the main culprits for applying the budgeting brakes were the huge
rise in insurance costs and the E911 operational deficit.
With the 911 center running at a $2.2 million yearly shortfall and little
hope for the state to provide significant relief, the council wanted to
proceed cautiously. At the suggestion of councilman Jeremy Rivas, the
council did create a $150,000 E911 budget in the general fund to begin to
address the shortfall, which is currently being supplemented by a rainy day
The county’s insurance costs, which were labeled as the “elephant in the
room” on several occasions throughout the budget sessions, made a jump from
just more than $5 million in 2011 to an estimated $8 million in 2012. The
increase of more than 30 percent from 2011 and 227 percent since 2006 is the
largest cause of the budget crunch.
The council reaffirmed its plan to hire an actuary in the near future to
examine the county’s insurance situation.
Whitten said he wasn’t happy to see employee raises be cut, but said the
county covering the insurance premiums without passing that cost on to the
employees served as a raise in benefits.
There were a few departments spared from reverting to the 2011 budgets. Any
department that decreased or didn’t change its bottom line was allowed to do
any restructuring and give any raises that had been previously approved.
The animal shelter budget didn’t increase, but since it eliminated two
control officers will have more money to use in 2012.
The voter registration office was also allowed to convert two part-time
employees to full-time because budget decreases offset much of the
additional insurance costs and 2012 is a big election year.
The council also preserved previously approved budget increases for three
social services, Opportunity Enterprises, the Council on Aging and Family
and Youth Services, using hospital interest money to cover the increases.
Two of the areas hit the hardest by Thursday’s decision were the Memorial
Opera House/Expo Center, which was set to receive five new employees on a
one-year basis, and the court system, which lost the new IV-D budget created
to alleviate backups in child support cases.
“We can look at this as a glass half empty or half full,” Biggs said. “We
are walking out of here making decisions very cautiously and because of that
we could be sitting here next year in a real good situation.”