Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Evans says voting centers are a must for Porter County

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

After seeing a puny voter turnout in Tuesday’s primary elections, Porter County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, sounded the call for the county to do away with precinct polling places and make the switch to centralized voting centers which he said would save the county bundles in tax dollars.

Evans said during Wednesday’s county commissioners meeting that the county’s 124 voter precincts are draining county funds needed to hold elections when a large majority of voters are not even showing up to cast their ballots. Only 15.34 percent of the county’s registered voters partook in this week’s election, down nearly five percent from the last non-presidential primaries in 2006.

“It’s ludicrous to have this keep going on,” he said, even feeling the larger turnout for the general elections is not enough to keep the status quo.

Polling places could be consolidated to about 20 voting centers, giving back to the county thousands of dollars spent to pay poll workers who receive up to $110 or $135 for their day’s work. Evans says the expense is like having an “extra tax.”

The voting centers would be placed throughout the county where anyone could access them without having to go to a required polling place, Evans said, thus making voting more convenient for residents and could drive up voting numbers. Evans encourages election officials to approach the state about allowing the voting centers.

“It has to happen,” he said.

Porter County Commissioner President Robert Harper, D-Center, said he is in full agreement with Evans and echoed that the centers will save the county a substantial amount of money, but says the county does not have permission from the state. The centers have only been approved and operated in Tippecanoe, Cass, and Wayne Counties. Harper said he encourages all local state legislators to create provisions for getting the centers in Porter County.

The Porter County Voters Registration office told the Chesterton Tribune that County Clerk and Election Board member Pamela Fish studied how voter centers operated in Tippecanoe County during the elections. Fish was not available for comment this morning.

Election Board President J. J. Stankiewicz said he would not be an advocate for centralized voting centers because it may disenfranchise some voters who do not have access to transportation. He said the concept needs to be studied meticulously.

Stankiewicz said he would not deny the centers would be more efficient, but feels democracy and economic efficiency have no correlation.

“Elections have nothing to do with profit. It has to do with making what is most convenient for the voter,” said Stankiewicz. He also said the change could add to more confusion, dissuading further voters from voting.

In another statement, Evans implored the county highway department to extract the county’s only covered bridge along the Calumet Bicycle Trail from the town of Pines and move it to Sunset Hill Farm County Park in Liberty Twp. The bridge has fallen victim to vandalism and would be better respected at Sunset Hill where it could be restored, he said.

County Tourism Called Economic Backbone

The Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission is encouraging visitors to “shake off the sand” and experience other attractions south of the Indiana Dunes.

PCCRVC Director Lorelei Weimer gave credit to the dunes’ popularity for putting Porter County on the map, but said the dunes parks are only an anchor in a broader initiative to bring visitors elsewhere. In her presentation to the commissioners on the state of Porter County tourism she said studies have shown that 58 percent of visitors are willing to travel up to 50 miles for an unplanned road trip.

Two goals of the PCCRVC Weimer highlighted were to attract visitors to the county, which could be friends or relatives of county residents, and get those people to extend their stays in local hotels, check out local festivals, dine in restaurants, and utilize public transportation.

Weimer said the towns and cities have also responded positively for the community branding project the tourism commission has designed along with partner Destination Development Inc. The Town of Pines has been branded with a retro 50s design and for the Town of Hebron, “pioneering spirit” has been presented.

County Commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South, asked Weimer if plans were being made to attract visitors to Dunn’s Bridge in Pleasant Twp near the Kankakee River. Weimer said plans are in motion for the Kankakee areas to open more public access on the Hebron side.

Other highlights included in the presentation were:

• Tourism is a base industry to Porter County. Over 4,000 jobs have been created as a result of local tourism.

• Visitor’s spend 36 percent of their money on food and beverage, but only 11 percent on lodging.

• The Dunes National Park is ranked 25 out of 391 national parks in terms of visits. Eighty percent of visitors are from either Indiana or Illinois.

• Seventy-one thousand people stopped by the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center in 2009. Sixty percent said they were willing to add an unplanned activity after receiving additional information on attractions.

Safety Programs Protect Employees and Tax Dollars

Jim Anton of Anton Insurance told the commissioners that his firm and the Porter County Safety Committee have worked diligently to promote safety in county offices. The committee was started about seven years ago and have worked closely with the commissioners to have safety on the mind of every employee, Anton said, which largely is beneficial to the county.

Anton reported a decrease six percent decrease in loss control ratio during the past year from 65 percent to 59 percent, which means there are less claims and less dollars expended by the insurance company.

 

 

Posted 5/6/2010

 

 

 

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