After getting through its first two 2012 budget hearings fairly smoothly,
the county council’s most important meeting is upon it.
At 5:30 p.m. on Monday, the council will hear the budget requests from the
county commissioners and discuss issues that will affect everyone in Porter
Aside from the commissioner’s normal operating budget, which is the largest
of any county entity, issues such as a new animal shelter, how to address
the E911 shortfall and the creation of a fiscal master plan will be
With the appropriation of millions of dollars on the line, the discussions
at this hearing will have a great impact on the financial future of Porter
Creating a master plan for the county to efficiently spend an $8 million
surplus and future monies it attains has been a topic for much of the year
by county officials. At the first budget hearing of this session, the
council formally stated it would bring the matter to the forefront when it
met with the commissioners because it wasn’t moving forward quickly enough.
Commissioner Nancy Adams and commissioner president John Evans have since
stated they fully agree some foresight into future spending on major issues,
such as those that will be discussed Monday along with drainage and an aging
infrastructure is important and that they have been working on such a plan.
On Thursday, Evans said that he sent a plan to the council members to
examine over the weekend and is ready to collaborate for a more detailed
One of the biggest expenses in that plan was the construction of a new
animal shelter. The problems with the current building have been a major
point of contention all summer as the structure has proven to be inadequate.
The recent $20,000 renovation and clean-up project brought the building,
that wasn’t intended to be a shelter, to a level of temporarily acceptable,
but without a dedicated facility animal control by the county would not be
able to continue.
The possibility of outsourcing animal control to a private business was
brought up at a county council meeting over the summer, but county officials
have backed off that as the focus has turned towards a new facility.
Council president Dan Whitten, the most outspoken critic of the old shelter,
stated on Monday that he would fully support construction of a new shelter
as long as the commissioners and council worked together to make it a
Evans and Adams, who took the lead this summer in rehabbing the old shelter,
both expressed their desire to leave the old building for special animal
control circumstances and house the animals for adoption in a new location.
While the shelter construction would be a one-time expense, the $2.2 million
deficit for E911 service is in need of a long-term solution.
After years of running at a surplus, a variety of factors have led to a
deficit. A major factor that is out of the county’s control is the shrinking
funding it receives from the phone surcharge tax. Residents are still
charged $1.50 per month for their landlines, but with more and more people
foregoing landline service for cell phones, the county is losing a major
source of income. There is a 50 cent tax on cell phones, which the state
takes 11 cents of, but it isn’t enough to make up the difference.
Evans said he has been trying to work with state representatives to correct
the problems with the surcharge and is hopeful that something will happen in
the near future.
Even with more surcharge income, however, Porter County’s dispatching
service is in need of new revenue because of the consolidation of the
Valparaiso and Portage dispatching centers into the county’s control.
The Indiana Legislature did pass a law that requires counties to consolidate
emergency dispatching services by 2014, but that law doesn’t apply to
standard police dispatching, which is a vast majority of the calls a
dispatch center receives.
The county assumed all of Valparaiso’s dispatching duties in 2007 and then
Portage’s in 2009 at no cost to the municipalities. About half of the
dispatch calls the Porter County center receives are from those two cities.
Since the moves, the county had added 21 full-time dispatchers with no new
source of revenue. Before consolidating, the county had built up more than a
$1 million surplus. This year it will spend $3.8 million and bring in just
$1.6 million, a $2.2 million deficit.
The only reason the deficit hasn’t been a major problem sooner is the
infusion of $4 million of rainy day cash assigned to the problem. The
current situation can only run through next year, however, before than money
“We don’t have a long-term solution,” councilman Jim Biggs said. “The 911
service is the backbone of everybody’s public safety. It is the heart and
“Will we get the money? Yeah we will find it, but we are not just going to
pull it out of the air. It is going to have to come from something that is
already being funded. It means less funding for someone. And this problem is
only going to grow as this county grows. That’s why it is imperative that
everyone get under one roof and discuss this as a county and come up with a
fair and equitable solution.”
Evans acknowledged a solution needs to be found quickly, but said trying to
get money from the municipalities is unrealistic.
“That’s going to be a tough sell,” Evans said. “The municipalities have the
same budget strain that the county does and in some cases even worse.”
It is not
uncommon for dispatching services to be consolidated, the city of New York
has just one center, the problem is how to fund a center that is continually
growing and expanding. How Porter County will handle the situation might be
the most important topic of conversation Monday night.