Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Whitten: Porter County more efficient than neighbors

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Although his seat is not up for election in November, County Council president Dan Whitten, D- at large, confronted campaign rumors that the county has been mismanaging its money.

During a county budget hearing Wednesday, Whitten said he was “absolutely infuriated” at accusations in newspapers and online blog discussions criticizing the county for spending money beyond acceptable limits.

Whitten refuted the criticisms in a written statement, saying the county is in far better shape than what is being said.

“As president of the fiscal body, namely the county council, I need to set the facts straight,” he said. “I’m not speaking up for political reasons.”

Whitten compared Porter County’s unemployment rate of 8.6 with its surrounding counties, showing a higher 10.7 percent in Lake County and LaPorte County with 11.3 percent. The Indiana Workforce Development ranks Porter 77th out of the 92 Indiana counties in terms of unemployment figures.

The Porter County General Fund cost per-capita at $209 is lower than any surrounding county and is in the bottom 15 counties in the state, Whitten said. Of the counties with over 100,000 in population, Porter County is fourth from the lowest in cost per capita spending.

Lake County’s General Fund cost per-capita is $241. Pulaski County has a $552 per-capita cost in its funds.

He said while it is not uncommon for property tax rates to climb, Porter County’s tax rate has not increased over the last five years, but instead has flat-lined.

Another part of Whitten’s argument is that the county has been able to accrue the interest money from the hospital sale without having to use it for any county budget spending.

Lastly, Whitten predicted the county will be able to control its spending well within the tax caps proposed whose constitutionality will be set in a referendum during this November’s election.

“We’re in good shape and I think this county council should be commended because it is not easy.”

County Highway, Commissioner Budgets Approved

The council approved a few of its heftier budgets during the session.

Porter County Highway Superintendent Al Hoagland submitted slightly higher budgets than what was approved for 2010.

Highway Maintenance rose from $1,818,911 to $1,902,061. Hoagland said the department will be looking into purchasing new trucks and chippers to replace the older ones. The Highway General budget was approved at $2,089,010.

The council also approved the Highway Major Moves budget at $1,150,000. The Major Moves money comes from the state’s sale of the Toll Road in 2006. The money is in its own separate fund is invested for use by the highway department.

The Porter County Commissioners’ general budget was approved by the council 7-0 at a figure of $11,584,588. The budget includes maintenance for the county buildings utilities, telephone and communication systems, and health insurance for county employees. Health insurance cost was one of the reasons the budget rose from $11,150,134 that was approved for 2010.

The council also approved $685,963 for the Porter County Plan Commission. The money does not come from the General Fund but from building permit fees.

Plan Director Robert Thompson said the department is in good shape for next year despite a lag in the number of housing and building projects in the county.

The county’s Information Technologies department will see one less person next year, but will create a new position.

The department cut a yearly $30,000 document imaging position along with a system support position costing $42,000 per year. A $52,000 server administrator position is set to be created for next year.

IT Director Sharon Lippens said the employee who is leaving has found work in the private sector.

NIRPC Fund Expected to Go Up

Council member Bob Poparad, D-1st, pointed out the fee for the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission will go up next year as the U.S. Census Bureau will make its next official tabulation of the county from this year’s census.

NIRPC is currently paid 70 cents per person. The figure is expected to rise to about 77 cents per-capita after this year, Poparad said.

The county’s estimated population is about 163,000 according to figures from the census bureau. The last census taken in 2000 indicated Porter County had a population of 146,798, which has been the basis for the NIRPC fees.

The council approved the fund worth $102,759 which is paid out of County Economic Development Income Tax money.

Final Budget Meeting Date Reset

The council has expanded its schedule for its budget work. Originally slated for final reading, the Oct. 18 hearing is to determine tabled budgets such as the election board and the county sheriff’s budget. A final reading has been rescheduled for Thursday, Oct. 21.

County auditor executive chief deputy Alizabeth Bailey told the Chesterton Tribune this morning that the county currently has $1,215,897 left in General Fund money to increase budgets.

 

Posted 9/30/2010

 

 

 

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