Chesterton Tribune

Divided County Council approves spending CEDIT funds

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Third times a charm.

The millions of dollars unspent in County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) projects that have been tabled two times previously were finally given approval Tuesday by the Porter County Council in a close 4-3 vote.

The money has been at the forefront of some heated discussions between council members and Count Commissioner President John Evans, R-North.

The debate was fueled by contrasting legal opinions by the county attorney who believes money given to CEDIT projects would not have to be reallocated by the council since the monies had already been approved and the Indiana State Board of Accounts which told the county auditor that CEDIT project monies should be given new approval to be transferred each year.

CEDIT tax money is spent by the county on items such as new infrastructure, drainage and building projects.

County Auditor Robert Wichlinski notified the council, prior to the January meeting, after learning the states guidelines for CEDIT funds and had the 20 or so projects put on the council agenda. The council delayed action until its attorney Scott McClure could render an opinion.

Moments before the vote, McClure sided with the opinion of the state board of accounts and said the CEDIT funds should be reviewed and appropriated during the councils budget hearings which take place typically in the fall.

Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he would see that funds are administered at budget time for the following year but that didnt answer the question of what is to be done with the project funds presently before the council.

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said giving the monies directly to the commissioners would essentially be creating a slush fund. He said new funding priorities have surfaced for the county since the inception of CEDIT by a previous county commissioner board and asked for the commissioners to submit more detailed information about their intentions for the funds.

"I think there needs to be specifics," Rivas said.

Evans said the life span on CEDIT projects has been shortened from four years to two in order to bring more oversight and the council could "cleanse them at the budget time." He emphasized the money has to be cumulative.

Evans stood by the view of the county attorney that CEDIT project money should be handed over to the commissioners since the council had already approved the projects and for him to change his mind, he would need to see the board of accounts opinion in writing.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, who is challenging Evans in the May 8 primary for North County Commissioner, backed Rivas suggestion saying he would like to see the commissioners draw up a plan for the funds in timeline fashion. Evans said the task would be difficult to do since the commissioners store funding up for whenever it is needed, such as when the sheriffs police need to purchase a new patrol vehicle.

"You should roll the funds over so they are there when you need it," Evans said.

County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, added her perspective saying CEDIT projects are not formally operated on a timeline and the commissioners stop them when the work is finished.

"We use them, we close them," said Adams.

Biggs told Evans a vote in opposition to approving the funds would not be to deny them but put a hold on them until the Council hears detailed plans for the money. This would help eliminate the number of "projects that lay dormant year after year," he said.

Rivas made a motion to appropriate only half the total funding figure but withdrew that motion after some debate other whether the action was viable.

Others were tired of arguing and wanted to put the matter to rest with the intention of formally addressing the matter in the next fall budget hearings now that the council is aware of the states rules.

"Lets just pass it and get our jobs done and move forward," Conover said.

Those in favor included Whitten, Conover, Council member Laura Blaney, D-at large, and Sylvia Graham D-at large. Those members against were Rivas, Biggs and Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th.

 

Posted 4/5/2012