Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Council agrees to use interest from hospital sale to fund PACT building

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Getting back to business after reorganizing Monday, the Porter County Council voted 7-0 in favor of providing funds for Porter County PACT to purchase the Legacy Banquet Center at 1356 Lincolnway, just outside downtown Valparaiso.

The purchase will be made with $600,000 of accrued interest from the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital, an action that will also require a majority vote from the Board of Commissioners who have voiced support for the project but have yet to take a final vote.

It is hoped the move will reduce the jail population, which could save the county as much as $150,000 per year.

Porter County Superior Court Judge Julia Jent, joined by Porter County PACT Director Tammy O’Neill, indicated that through PACT 122,000 hours of community service was served last year and on average five individuals are providing that service each day which otherwise would be an expense to the County.

With the purchase of the Legacy building Jent said that PACT would be able to expand services and handle 20 additional offenders from the PCJ when the building is complete. PACT could also restart its GED programs to help the offenders and build up its home monitoring services, she said.

Jent said those in the PACT program must meet specific qualifications. The program only accepts non-violent offenders.

Mitigating jail overcrowding is valuable since it costs the County over $35 daily to house each inmate and the Sheriff has indicated the number of inmates has overreached the number of beds available.

County Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he does not see the purchase of the building as an expense but rather a reinvestment, a preferable alternative to constructing more space at PCJ.

“We can’t build our way out of this jail overcrowding problem,” he said.

Fellow County Council member Dan Whitten, D-At Large, who works as a bankruptcy attorney, said the economic downturn has played a factor in the hike in jail population numbers.

“In desperate times, people turn to desperation,” he said.

The building will belong completely to PACT, not the County. The agency will use about $500,000 for the purchase of the building itself and the rest would be used for upgrades.

O’Neill said the agency would sell off its two residential locations if currently operates out of, 254 S. Morgan Blvd. and 207 Brown St. in Valparaiso. PACT Executive Director Sharon Mortensen said the deal on the new building is expected to close by the end of this month and will be ready to use sometime this spring.

About a dozen people showed up in support of the purchase. Porter County PACT has been active for 35 years.

Attorney Scott McClure said the agency had met the guidelines of a second appraisal and a building inspection, two details the County Council requested at its last meeting before approving the funds.

The County Commissioners have shown support for the project but have yet to take an official vote on use of hospital sale interest money.

E-911 budget

In a separate matter, the Council voted 7-0 in favor of job title changes for the Enhanced 911 Communications Center, but did not grant the requested raise in salaries to go with them.

The Commissioners last month approved E-911 Director John Jokantas’ plan to give one of his employees the task of an accreditation manager and another to be the department’s quality assurance manager. Neither employee will see their salaries increase to $38,500, at least not just yet.

Biggs told Jokantas that the Council plans to have a “lengthy” discussion with the Commissioners about using more county economic development income tax for E-911 operations and asked him to be patient on funding requests.

“We will get to them as soon as we can,” Biggs said.

Jokantas said having an accreditation manager and a quality assurance manager will open the door for more federal grant opportunities.

The center is cutting costs by having staff share more responsibilities when a worker retires instead of making new hires. Jokantas said that he was able to come in under budget in 2012 by about $330,000 and 2013’s figure would be $60,000 less, even with the salary increases.

Park land in south county

Before recessing, Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, told the Council that in fulfillment of a “parting request” made by retiring South County Commissioner Carole Knoblock, he, Graham, new South County Commissioner Laura Blaney and the county parks department have located a parcel “somewhere in south county” with flat land suitable for the Parks department to develop baseball/softball and soccer fields.

Polarek said the owner is in discussions with the County about selling the land and more details will be announced at Thursday’s county park board meeting.

 

Posted 1/8/2013