Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Council shows support for Porter County PACT building purchase

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Council is in, mostly, for dishing out hospital interest funds to the non-profit Porter County PACT’s request of $600,000 to purchase a larger building on the outskirts of Valparaiso.

But the County is likely to gain back its investment as the plan could sharply reduce the existing costs to house inmates at the Porter County Jail and mitigate the facility’s overcrowding problems.

The building eyed for purchase is the Legacy Banquet Center at 1356 Lincolnway.

Representing PACT at Monday night’s Council meeting were the agency’s Executive Director Sharon Mortensen, Porter County Director Tammy O’Neill, and Board President George Douglas. Joining them in the request was County Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper.

The agency works closely with the county’s Community Corrections program and has been present in the County for 35 years, offering a variety of referral programs to help troubled men and women to make changes in their lives.

Porter County PACT programs include Adult Drug Court, Stop Abuse and Violence Through Education, Alcohol and Drug Offender Services, Veteran’s Court, Project Prevent Re-Occurring Offenses, Electronic Services Monitoring, Community Transition Program, and Community Service Restitution.

Mortensen and O’Neill said Porter County PACT’s two current locations in residences at 254 S. Morgan Blvd. and 207 Brown St. in Valparaiso are “using every inch of space.” Having the new building will greatly improve outreach and would allow an increase the number of people admitted to the programs, they said.

With more persons admitted to monitoring programs, they would not have to be housed at the jail. The County pays about $35 a day for each inmate housed (the jail population is reportedly well over 400), which means savings would add up.

The organization is not regularly funded by the County and has been self-sufficient over the years with money received from agencies like the Indiana Department of Corrections, but currently the organization does not have the funds to purchase the Legacy building.

The building itself would cost $500,000 but an additional $100,000 would be needed for expenses like electrical upgrades, a new conference room and signage.

County Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, said she approves of the project at face value but needs proof that PACT had met the proper requirements to make the purchase such as inspections and appraisals. She also wanted to assurance from PACT that the County would not be faced with recurring costs.

But County Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, who attended a recent seminar about Community Corrections, believes in the savings potential and moved to draw from hospital funds. “This is smart government. This is what we should be doing instead of building more jails. Building more jails doesn’t fix (the overcrowding situation),” he said.

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, echoed those comments saying that opening and staffing the third pod would not solve the jail problems entirely.

The County is serious about opening up the jail’s third pod which would open up 109 more beds. With the current two pods, the jail has 350 beds available which still comes up short with the current number of inmates. Sheriff David Lain notified the Council and Commissioners in May of the liability issues from cramped conditions.

Biggs ended up rescinding his motion when Council Attorney Scott McClure informed them the Council could not approve use of hospital interest money Monday because the PACT request had not been advertised on the meeting agenda.

But the Council did put the matter to a straw vote which yielded a favorable vote of 5-1 with Graham dissenting because she said she first wants to see an inspection report on the building.

Absent from the meeting was Council President Dan Whitten, D-At Large.

Acting as chair in Whitten’s absence, Council Vice-president Karen Conover, R-3rd, said her approval came with a caveat that appraisals and inspections be done.

Mortensen said PACT would need to close on the deal by Dec. 28 but it is likely an extension would be granted while both the County Council and County Commissioners make their official votes on the $600,000 request.

A majority vote is required from both boards in order to tap in to the hospital interest fund. The request has been officially advertised for today’s County Commissioner meeting and Mortenson said the Commissioners have shown support.

The Council is expected to give its official vote at its reorganizational meeting scheduled for Monday, Jan. 5 at 5 p.m.

If PACT is able to expand their programs, it will likely mean those convicted on lesser felony charges can be admitted to monitoring programs before their trial or sentencing rather than afterwards, Harper said, and added that this would be the “best option” available to keep the jail from filling up.

Biggs said those in the monitoring programs can work and provide for their families instead of sitting in jail.

 

 

 

 

Posted 12/18/2012