Chesterton Tribune


County office heads eye pilot program to offer services at Portage location

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A plan is in motion to offer a “one-stop shopping” location for Porter County taxpayers in the most populous part of the county.

Members of the county’s TQM team made up of County Auditor Robert Wichlinski, County Treasurer Mike Bucko, and County Assessor Jon Snyder attended the Portage Redevelopment Commission’s meeting on Monday morning to make known their goal of opening up a share spaced in the new Portage University Center located at 6260 Central Avenue.

Bucko and Wichlinski told the Tribune this week that the TQM team’s intention is to start a two-year pilot program where employees from their offices will be cross-trained to handle tasks performed by the auditor, treasurer and assessor offices. Other departments such as the County Clerk’s office and Veteran’s Services may also locate to the space at the University Center.

This would make it more convenient for local residents who don’t wish to drive all the way to county’s Administration Building in downtown Valparaiso, Bucko said. Most of the County’s mobile home properties are along or located north of U.S. 6, he pointed out, and many owners would have to travel to Valparaiso to renew their mobile home permits.

“We’re putting our heads together to see if we can make things easier for everybody,” Bucko said.

Another component of the plan includes moving the Portage Twp. Assessor’s office to that location. The Portage Twp. Assessor’s office is currently located at the county’s North Complex on Willowcreek Road.

Wichlinski said having the Portage Twp. assessor’s office moved will free up more space at the North Complex which is being used up more and more by the county courts system. The County Health Department also has a satellite location at the complex and there has been talk of that department moving to Portage Community Hospital immediately south.

An administrator from the Health Department could not be reached for further comment this morning.

Bucko said that with the courts expanding and with criminals being walked through the facility by Sheriff’s police, the north complex is “not a good (location) for a mixed-use environment.”

Wichlinski advised that this “is not a move to grow government” in that the departments will not be hiring any new personnel.

“The idea is to provide better service and efficiency to the taxpayer,” Wichlinski said.

More services such as tax bill payments can already be handled on the County’s website, but statistics show that one in five people do not have internet access so face-to-face service is still needed, he added.

The TQM members will recommend to the County Commissioners and the Council that the lease at the University Center be paid out of the auditor’s non-reverting fund created for the TQM program first developed in 2011. The fund is made up of payments accrued from homestead credit violations.

The amount of space being eyed for use at the University Center is about 5,300 square feet. The building is owned by the Portage Redevelopment Commission and current negotiations have been to lease the space at $7,043.75 per month.

After the pilot program ends, the County Council will need to decide if it wants to pursue a new avenue of how to pay for the space.

Bucko said he is not sure how many employees would be on hand at the new satellite location as staffing details are still being discussed.



Posted 2/15/2013