Although no formal decisions were made Tuesday, the Porter County Council
addressed a number of pending issues including how to find financial support
for the countys Enhanced 911 dispatch center and drainage repair in the
South Haven area.
911 to be
discussed with municipalities
A new state law will allow counties to collect up to 90 cents per month on
all phones, which is about doubled for cell phone surcharges, but council
members said it will not be enough to cover the projected $2 million to $3
annual shortfall in county E-911 operations.
As a few council members are leaning toward using CEDIT money to keep the
center afloat, Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Jim Biggs, R-1st, believe the
municipalities of Valparaiso and Portage, which have consolidated with the
county system, and Chesterton and Porter which maintain their own
dispatching, should assist county officials in developing a plan.
Rivas said he has reached out to Portage Mayor Jim Snyder but said there is
no plan currently to move its E-911 system forward.
Biggs said that although the chances are slim for cash-strapped cities and
towns to pitch in, all parties need to advise the county of their situation
in order for the council to see where it stands.
Council members will request representatives from each municipality to
attend the next council meeting on April 24.
County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said the county has
enough in its rainy day fund to see the 911 center through the middle of
2013. The newly formed state 911 board, by statute, can raise surcharge fees
on phones by 10 cents per year and could reach $1.35 per phone in a few
years which could lend a significant subsidy to the county, Evans said.
Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, told his peers it may be best to have
another solution in hand.
"The answer is not going to come from the state," Polarek said.
Fellow Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd said a bit of progress was made
by local state lawmakers who made the effort in the legislature to assist
the counties with 911 revenue.
supported if schools not affected
Members of the countys redevelopment advisory commission approached the
council on revising its role, proposing to become a statutory commission.
Porter Countys redevelopment commission is the only county redevelopment
commission in Indiana that does not have statutory powers, said
redevelopment commission director John Shepherd.
The new commission would consist of five members, with two appointments from
the county council and three from the commissioners. According to Shepherd,
officials could appoint themselves or anyone they feel is best to serve.
"You have a lot of opportunity in these terms," he said.
Evans said the commissioners would disband the current advisory
redevelopment commission and re-establish it with statutory capabilities.
Council members were handed information regarding the duties of a statutory
commission which includes establishing Tax Increment Financial (TIF)
districts with the county commissioners.
Biggs said he feels the need for the county to have a TIF district possibly
in the area surrounding the new Porter hospital at U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 but
raised concern the district could hurt the Duneland Schools Corporation
which has seen significant funding cuts from the state.
Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, advised she had the same concern.
Current redevelopment commission member Ric Frataccia, who is an associate
superintendent with Portage Township Schools, said when state laws for TIF
districts were introduced in the 1990s revenues were diverted from schools
but since then lawmakers have made it feasible to protect school revenue.
Frataccia also explained that the state now gives revenue to schools general
funds through state sale sales tax instead of property tax, but schools
capital projects and debt service could potentially be impacted. However he
encouraged county officials to appoint at least one school representative to
see school budgets do not suffer.
When asked by Whitten in regards to other possible impacts, primarily the
tax revenue coming from the new hospital, Shepherd said with a TIF district
in place the area could see a small increase in tax rate. If "best laid
plans dont come to fruition," Shepherd said, the county could generate funds
from a bond issue or some other funding source.
A TIF district would have to be reviewed by the county planning department
and the county commissioners, but does not need approval from the county
council for it to be established.
Other council members showed enthusiasm like Conover who said TIF districts
can be useful in improving roads and buildings in a certain area by
collecting new taxes from new developments.
Also on Tuesday, drainage board president Dave Burrus, who has headed up the
revamp work on troubled drainage spots throughout the county, presented the
council with the same information given to the commissioners at their March
20 meeting regarding projects in South Haven.
Burrus estimated solutions to the woes in South Haven created by a 50
year-old stormwater system could cost more than $16 million, with $9.7
million in capital improvements and $6.5 million in maintenance
improvements. He suggested the county move forward with maintenance
improvements first which involves placing new lining in the pipes that could
hold up for 50 years.
Burruss team, which includes DLZ Indiana, said they have also identified
nine other major projects with costs totalling over $10 million.
Several funding options were presented based on whether the county would
decide to fix the problems all at once or space work out over a few years.
"Any creative ideas would certainly be welcome," Burrus said.
Whitten and Council member Laura Blaney, D-at large, said it would make
better sense to fix the problems now so future problems would be prevented.
Evans said he originally suggested using hospital sale proceeds to pay for
the work but is rethinking his idea. He said it may be smarter for county
officials to establish a bond issue from its own hospital funds, basically
borrowing from themselves and gaining interest in the process.
In other items, Whitten said representatives from the Town of Hebron have
asked council members to attend that towns council meeting this month on the
topic of use of the interest on funds from the hospital sale.
The council has also been approached by Porter Starke Services CEO Rocco
Schiralli on outreach programs. Whitten said the council will hear from
Porter Starke at its April 24 meeting.