Chesterton Tribune


Commissioners order study of jail funds in wake of new costs

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The move to hire more medical staff at the Porter County Jail may be a bit on the stiff side for the County’s pocketbook.

County Sheriff David Lain said he is looking to potentially hire up to 12 nurses to his medical staff as well as a few mental health professionals and administrative support based on recommendations by the National Institute of Corrections.

The overall costs for the revamped medical staff could be “in excess of $1.5 million” per year. For the limited medical staff Lain has been budgeted at around $300,000 under a contract with Advanced Correctional Healthcare, consisting of five nurses with only three of those positions filled currently.

“It will be a significant increase,” Lain said.

The Sheriff’s Police Department has not yet recommended its choice of who its medical staff provider should be. The Commissioners during their meeting Tuesday accepted packets from companies responding to a Request for Proposals that was sent out by the Sheriff at the start of this year.

The recommendation has been delayed as additional questionnaires made by County Attorney Elizabeth Knight were sent to the interested firms to gain more clarity on what each could accomplish. Proposals have come from places such as Tennessee and New York while some are from Indiana.

Lain said he could have a recommendation at the Commissioners’ next meeting on April 2.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who earlier suggested to Lain that he form a funding plan, said that because the sheriff’s budget would spike by more than $1 million, he would like to see a complete audit review be done by H. J. Umbaugh and Associates of all the sheriff’s and jail budgets to understand how money is moving and being dispersed.

Ultimately the goal would be for the County to determine which funds can be used to pay for the jail’s future projects as the list keeps growing, whether it is the medical staff issue or remediating the overcrowding situation.

“The problem with government is you have to put money into a bucket and that bucket can only be used for certain things,” he said. “The audit will put us in a position to know what funds are available for anything and everything.”

The sheriff’s police take in funding from a myriad of different sources, some from the County, the state, the federal government and fees it collects on its own.

Lain did not object to the proposals and said his department is willing to cooperate.

“We will always participate the best we can” said Lain, adding that his funds are transparent. “We are an open book.”

Evans said the costs associated with the jail “will not be insignificant” and the County “needs to look carefully” including auxiliary costs.

Agreeing for Umbaugh to do a budget report were Evans and his fellow Commissioners Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South.

Evans said after the meeting the decision to look at jail funds has also been supported by some members of the County Council for a long time. The County hired Umbaugh last year to complete a comprehensive financial plan and will add the jail review to that current agreement with a cost figure to be decided later, Evans said.

Also, on a separate item, the Sheriff’s Department got approval from the Commissioners to enter a lease agreement with Harley-Davidson to use two motorcycles for a monthly rate of $160 each.

“We get a lot out of those bikes,” Lain said.

Insurance claims and costs dip

The renewal of the County’s employee health insurance plan for April 1 through March 31 was easier to do this year as Mike Anton of Anton Insurance, the County’s serving agent, along with third-party administrator Stewart C. Miller, reported a sizable decrease in the number of claims for 2012-13.

During that period, the 17,515 claims filed came to about $8.63 million compared to $9.62 million for the 2011-12 period, Anton reported.

Part of the reason for the $1 million difference was the drop in catastrophic claims, or claims that have reached more than 50 percent of the $125,000 maximum deductible, to 30 this year. Six of those claims exceeded the maximum which the County gets reimbursed on, Anton said.

Hospital claims were also down by $1.4 million from the previous year, Anton said.

An average of 604 participants were on the plan this past year with a monthly cost of $1,178.22 for each employee per month.

The Commissioners renewed the insurance plan with a stop-loss reinsurance cost of $125,000 maximum and will keep the same aggregate rates. The aggregate deductible will stay at $100,000.

The ULLICO rates for singles and families also decreased in the plans renewal. For a singles on the plan, the monthly premiums are $45.14 in the renewal, down from the $52.83 last year, and for families it is $126.19 per family compared to $136.47 last year.

On a related note, Anton’s employee benefit specialist Leigh Westergren reported a record number of 263 participants took part in wellness screenings along with the County’s new clinic service provider Porter Health Care Systems.

Evans said taking more preventive measures is the one of the most effective way to manage costs.

“The thing that keeps rates down is we are proactive with this,” he said.

Westergren said the free screening available to the employees is a $1,700 value.

“Anyone who doesn’t take it is really missing out,” Evans said.

Health Board asks to raise fee

on death certificates

Meanwhile, County Health Board Attorney David Hollenbeck, along with Health Department Administrator Keith Letta, came to the board with a request to approve an ordinance that would increase the cost of a death certificate copy from $7 to $9.

Hollenbeck said part of the money would be given to the County Coroner’s Education which is in need of boost due to reductions. The $9 fee will also put the county in line with the fees of neighboring counties, Hollenbeck added.

The department issues over 10,000 death certificates a year, Letta said, and it is one of the ways it sustains itself without using tax dollars.

All three commissioners voted “yea” to the ordinance on a first reading. No comments were made during a public hearing. Second reading is scheduled for April 2.

The commissioners approved another request by Hollenbeck, who is also the legal representative for the county tourism bureau. A favorable vote approved the bureau giving $17,820 in innkeepers’ tax revenue this year to the Expo Center, the Porter County Museum of History, and the Memorial Opera House to market their venues.

Funeral protest ordinance

Following in the steps of such boards as the Porter Town Council, Evans announced at the April 2 Commissioners meeting the board will take a vote on a county ordinance to ban protests at funerals.


Posted 3/20/2013