Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners and council meet Tuesday on finance report

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Porter County has been solvent through the years but is not impervious to the challenges all Indiana counties are facing, such as declining assessed property values, circuit breaker losses, late or unpaid property taxes, tax abatements and appeals, declining state-distributed revenues and reductions in local income taxes.

As the demand for services goes up and tax revenue goes down, the Porter County Commissioners and the Porter County Council are eager to hear from consultants H.J. Umbaugh & Associates on options they may have to plan for the future.

Umbaugh delivered a draft of their report to the county a little more than a month ago. The final version will include a “financial road map” on how the county could “preserve a standard of fiscal and operations accountability” to its citizens over the next several years.

Possible solutions the report gives for Porter County to overcome its potential funding gaps include “revenue increases, debt financing, greater use of technology, budget reductions and, in some instances, using existing cash reserves,” the report said.

As for the effect produced by the property tax circuit breakers, which the report refers to as “an unrecoverable loss of revenue to local units of government,” the county will need to find other ways to make up for the loss as the falling assessed valuations and increased tax rates push properties toward the cap.

Unofficial AV figures from the County Assessor’s office indicate the county could see a decline of $360 million in its county total next year (going from $13.4 billion the previous year to $13.1 billion).

The report also found that in the county’s General Fund cash reserves in the last the three years have been in excess of 17 percent of the total budget. For the county to keep cash reserves of 15 percent, the report said reductions would have to be made in the General Fund expenditures or increase the county economic development income tax (CEDIT) by $1.8 million.

General Fund spending per capita in Porter is higher than in most counties of comparable size throughout the state. Expenditures are expected to rise annually by three percent while property taxes are assumed to grow by a certified growth factor of nearly two percent.

However, no other county has money stored up in reserves as Porter does. At the end of last year, the county had a fund balance of $171.1 million in hospital funds, $13 million in Major Moves money, $5.2 million in rainy day funds, and about $5 million in unallocated CEDIT.

While some officials believe reserve funds should remain untouched for use in emergencies, some community members have argued the county should not wait to spend the money on things that could improve the quality of life such as health facilities and infrastructure for job creation.

Further recommendations Umbaugh makes are for county officials to begin a series of studies to evaluate the methods of delivering public services.

Also: evaluate current banking and investing practices to see if the county is receiving the most interest and lowest fees possible, develop an Improvement Plan scorecard to track progress, and annually compare health insurance costs and benefits plans.

The County Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. exclusively to discuss the findings of the report directly with Umbaugh & Associates.

The consultants will also give a presentation to the county commissioners at their regular meeting at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

Both meetings will be in Room 205 of the County Administration Building located at 155 Indiana Ave. in Valparaiso.

Also on the agenda at the commissioners’ meeting is a further discussion with Anton Insurance regarding new options for the county’s health plan for its employees.

The commissioners will also be receiving and opening bids for the roof replacement at the Porter County Courthouse.

The board will also vote on a second reading on an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance giving the plan commission the ability to issue plan design waivers, a duty previously belonging to the County Board of Zoning Appeals.

 

Posted 8/20/2012