A long and arduous task stood before the Porter County Council Tuesday as
members prepared to act on an extensive list of funding requests totaling
more than $7 million.
The requests from county department heads poured in over the past month as a
result of the council’s decision last fall to freeze virtually all budgets
at their 2011 levels, meaning the 2012 budgets would not include additional
personnel or new programs.
Rather than proceeding with the requests item by item, council members said
more information is needed and tabled nearly all of them to the next council
meeting in February.
“We have a bunch of issues that need to be addressed,” said Council
President Dan Whitten, D-at large, who asked the county auditor’s office to
help put together a detailed report “budget by budget” in order to “get a
handle on” how each department is operating within their respective budgets.
County Auditor Bob Wichlinski said the report, which would detail all
activity from January 2011 until the budget hearings commenced in September,
could be ready in advance of the council meeting scheduled for the end of
Items tabled included numerous CEDIT project funds totaling over $5 million,
which were referred to the council attorney to study more closely. Also
tabled were various highway bridge projects some of which highway
superintendent Al Hoagland said some may have been approved already.
All raise requests or employee structural changes were also put on hold
during the meeting.
Items that were approved fell mainly into the categories of law enforcement,
courts and public safety. The council voted 7-0 on items requested by the
Juvenile Detention Services for $2,500 for consultants, $11,200 for
contractual service and $5,000 for toxicology. Juvenile Justice Services
Director Alison Cox said funds will allow youths to take their GED exam at
the Juvenile Center rather than having two officers escort them to take the
test in Portage.
The center will save money on the measure by saving the costs involved in
transporting a juvenile, Cox said.
Warning sirens recently purchased by the county’s Environmental Management
Agency received an additional $35,000 from the council for continued
maintenance this year. Money for a total of four EMA grants was also
The entire council voted a final time to approve the use of $270,000 in
interest money earned on proceeds of the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital
for local non-profit groups struggling financially due to state budget cuts
– Council on Aging ($120,000), Opportunity Enterprises ($50,000) and Family
and Youth Services Bureau ($100,000). The County Commissioners voted to
approve the expenditures in December.
Wichlinski said he is devising a new process to help streamline budget
requests and give the council a better understanding as to why requests are
In other actions, the council finalized discussions with consultant Todd
Samuelson of H.J. Umbaugh and Associates to work out an agreement to deliver
a comprehensive plan of the county’s financial future.
The county has been in talks with Samuelson over the past few months seeking
a three-year plan projecting a cash flow model of all major funds in the
county. The model would not only include the county’s “big ticket” items
such as health insurance benefits, Enhanced 911 services and operational
costs, but potential capital expenditures such as roads, bridges and asset
Samuelson said his firm would also strive to consider many factors that
could influence revenues such as property tax caps and growth in the
county’s tax levies.
“It’s going to be as realistic as possible,” said Samuelson.
Data gathering from the county’s accounts would be the first phase of the
project before moving ahead with the actual plan development phase.
The process is expected to take six to eight months now that authorization
has been received.
All seven council members voted to approve authorization and the consultants
would be paid on an hourly basis. The contract states the rate can be
expected to be approximately $180 per hour and not to exceed a total of
Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, who has been adamantly pushing for the
county to draw up a finance plan, was happy to hear the consultants could
start work right away. “This is a very critical moment in our time,” said
Polarek asked Samuelson to show up at each council meeting to keep the board
abreast on the plan’s progress.
Lastly, the council unanimously voted down a request from Porter County
Surveyor Kevin Breitzke and the county drainage board to charge a $150
filing fee for residents petitioning the county to resolve their private
Breitzke said state statute authorizes the county to remove obstructions in
private or mutual drains after a landowner petitions them to extricate the
blockage if the owner of the land where the blockage occurs fails to remove
the blockage over a certain period of time.
The county sees about a half dozen of these requests each year and the fee
would help the drainage board start the work, but the council voted 7-0
against the fee.