Chesterton Tribune

Anger and frustration boil over at County Council budget hearing

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By DOUG ELISH

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 operational expenditures.

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 several items.

“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 plan.

The scheduling of the meeting led to all of the commissioners’ budget items being tabled.

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.

 

 

Posted 10/4/2011