With a tense atmosphere hanging over Monday night’s Porter County budget
hearing from the start, months of frustration finally boiled over between
the county council and the county commissioner president about two hours
into the meeting.
Discussions about what a $1.29 million rainy day fund for the jail should be
spent on led to heated exchanges between councilmen Jim Biggs, Jim Polarek,
Dan Whitten and commissioner president John Evans.
At one point, the vitriol even showed itself within the council as Biggs and
Polarek questioned why private meetings between Whitten and Evans’ weren’t
made known to the council before the budget hearing.
The cause of the problem lies with how the county will use a significant
surplus to begin attacking an ever-growing list of both capital and
The county does have a large amount of money saved to begin addressing
problems such as the $2.2 million E911 budget deficit, an estimated $20
million in drainage situations, rapidly-rising health care costs, an aging
infrastructure and even a new animal shelter, but it doesn’t have nearly
enough to tackle all of the issues or the recurring costs associated with
“People might not like to hear this, but the only reason the county has this
money is from a tax raise and the sale of the hospital,” Biggs said after
the meeting. “We are not as solvent as it appears. We have some major issues
to address and once we do what it will take to keep some buildings open and
the drainage projects that money will be gone.”
All of the county officials agree that Porter County needs a comprehensive
master plan to address these and other issues, but the breakdown occurs when
discussing who will develop it. Evans provided a list of the major issues to
the council along with an estimated cost on Monday. However, several council
members noted that the list didn’t address how the issues would be paid for
or in what order they would be completed.
Several members of the council said they have been asking the commissioners
for a plan the whole year, while Evans said the effort needs to be a joint
effort of the two bodies.
This point of contention led to the arguing as Biggs repeatedly asked Evans
if he was going to write a plan with Evans, feeling as though he was being
ordered what to do, shooting back.
“I am not going to be told what to do,” Evans said in the meeting. “With the
cooperation of the council, we will make a plan.”
A few minutes of heated discussion was finally broken when Whitten called
for a special joint session between the council and commissioners to be held
at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 in the county meeting room to address the master
The scheduling of the meeting led to all of the commissioners’ budget items
After the meeting was set, Whitten asked county auditor Bob Wichlinski to
attend and bring a detailed list of all the funds available for the major
projects. Wichlinski said that would be possible.