There was good news from the Porter County Council’s 2013 budget meeting on
And some bad news.
Begin with the good: Porter County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, told
members that he and Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, have agreed to make
available $2 million in unallocated CEDIT funds to cover a budget shortfall
estimated at between $1.7 million and $1.9 million.
Now the bad: it’s likely to cost an annual $1.5 million—going forward—to
hire enough new staff at the Porter County Jail to meet the recommendations
of a not-yet-released study by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC).
How the Commissioners’ largesse will be used by the County Council in the
2013 budget is not at this point known. Nor was Sheriff Dave Lain able to
say exactly how much the new hires would cost, as the final NIC report will
probably not be available for at least a week. The County Council took no
action on Thursday, except to face squarely the fact that times are tough,
money is tight, and some sort of innovative approach to county finances is
Evans made it clear that the $2 million is hardly a solution, of any kind.
“We realize this will not be a permanent fix,” he said but did note that it
will go a long way immediately to relieving some of the pressure created by
After the meeting Evans told the Chesterton Tribune that CEDIT
funds—revenues from the County Economic Development Income Tax—may now
legally be used for operations: for salaries, supplies, and any other line
item in the General Fund.
The County Council, for its part, expressed its gratitude to Evans for the
boon. “That’s fantastic, John,” said President Dan Whitten, D-at large.
“Thanks very much.”
Meanwhile, things at PCJ aren’t looking so rosy, where the NIC has already
made note of the crying need for around-the-clock medical services. “The
largest single liability the county faces is the efficiency of the jail’s
medical coverage,” Lain told members. “We have dodged innumerable bullets
over the course of time. There’s never been enough money to provide trained
medical staff 24/7.”
“When in doubt, my staff sends inmates to the hospital,” Lain added. “And
that becomes very expensive.”
“I implore you to consider getting the Porter County Jail to a point where
we have qualified medical personnel on the scene seven days a week around
The County Council wanted to know specifically how many personnel Lain has
A supervisor and seven registered nurses, Lain replied.
But medical services are only part of the problem, Lain emphasized. PCJ is
also badly understaffed. Lain was unwilling to speak in a public meeting
about the specific security challenges posed by the understaffing but he did
say that his jail officers are “daily stopping incidents from happening.”
A total of 16 new jail officers would be needed to put PCJ on any kind of
adequate staffing level, Lain said—and would also permit the opening of the
facility’s third pod—but even 16 would be ultimately too few.
“If we gave you everything you’re asking for, you still would not be
comfortable?” asked Member Sylvia Graham, D-at large.
“The immediate need is 16,” Lain said. “But we could use more than that.”
Lain’s estimated annual cost for the needed medical staff and new jail
officers: $1.478 million.
That, Whitten observed, “will cause a substantial recurring cost to the
Member Jim Biggs, R-1st, concurred. “In my opinion, (PCJ) is the single
largest, most concerning item in the budget.”
In the end the only viable long-term solution to the problem of county
finances is a new approach to governance, Biggs said. “We’re going to have
to get leaner and smarter. That’s all there is to it. Investing in ourselves
and doing things in a better, more efficient way.
Evans agreed and said that he’s had discussions with Valparaiso Mayor Jon
Costas and Portage Mayor Jon Snyder about centralized purchasing and
possibly the establishment of a shared human-resources department.
But it’s also
going to take everyone’s cooperation. “If people left the county and tried
to get health insurance on their own, they’d be shocked,” Whitten said.
“Going to the doctor two times in three days for a sore throat, that’s the
kind of thing that drives our insurance. We’re going to need the help of our