Last night’s Porter County Council budget hearing recessed before 6:30 p.m.,
not even running up one hour on the clock.
That might seem unusual – or relieving– for some who remember years when
meetings would stretch far into the evening, sometimes past 10 or 11 p.m.
The reason behind the breezy, shorter meetings is – and no, hell didn’t
freeze over – the Council has initiated a new system this year of setting
the 2013 county department budgets.
Instead of voting on each budget in piecemeal fashion, the Council will hold
off on any approval on any budget until all items have been discussed and it
is ready to move on to final budget adoption.
That meeting – set tentatively for Oct. 15 – will probably extend to epic
length as the council considers all raises in one big package.
As Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, explained to the Chesterton Tribune,
the Council “wasted hours” last year when it mulled department requests,
approving some increases – a virtual promise to those employees expecting
raises – and then nullifying those actions by ultimately flat lining all
budgets at the eleventh hour.
Even with the budgets set and adopted, the council spent months earlier this
year appropriating necessary items such as the county’s CEDIT projects.
In order to avoid such an imbroglio, Polarek said nothing will be finalized
until the end.
“We’re looking to do it right this time. No false impressions,” he said.
Thursday’s meeting was blanketed with requests for minor increases – a
$1,000 for contractual services here, $500 for office supplies there – as
costs on daily operations continue to move upward. The agenda consisted of
various departments keeping the budget amounts as close as possible to last
year per request of the Council.
County Recorder Jon Miller was among the department heads who requested
permission to give a few workers a slight boost in salary. He said the
employees had not received any raises for several years while his 1st deputy
was given one last year.
“With the economy (as it is), our people deserve raises,” said Miller.
Some of the salaries would come out of the Recorder Perpetuation Fund,
Miller said, which is not part of the county’s General Fund. He said he is
also eyeing more funds for software upgrades to move forward with digital
scanning and data storage, part of the Total Quality Management program.
Another member of the TQM team, County Assessor Jon Snyder said his budget
decreased this year due to reduced staffing and efficient use of contractual
services. That seemed to impress the Council.
“Keep moving in that direction,” Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd told
“He (Snyder) has done more with less,” added fellow Council member Karen
More staff at
A frequent advocate of making services more available to taxpayers, County
Treasurer Mike Bucko pitched the idea of putting more of his staff at the
county’s North Complex in Portage.
Bucko said he has heard taxpayers have complained about having to go to
Valparaiso to pay tax bills and asked if they could do so at the county’s
Portage location. Many of these taxpayers are mobile home residents who live
in Portage Twp., Bucko said.
Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, and Council President Dan Whitten, D-at
large, advised costs could stand in the way but they would not rule out the
request. It all depends on the totals when the Council goes to adopt the
“We are all about making services easier for the taxpayer. We just have some
budget constraints to work with,” Whitten said.
Biggs asked Bucko to provide the Council with further information.
Bucko said he is not pushing “to reinvent the wheel,” but to have staff in
Portage during the days of the year when his office collects the two
installments for property tax in May and November.
more on investments
Meanwhile, Bucko told the Council that the new option for the county to
invest a portion of it reserves is beginning to pay off.
A bill spearheaded by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, passed the
Indiana General Assembly that would allow counties to invest funds for up to
five years instead of three.
Just recently, Bucko invested $12.8 million into a five-year plan with an
aggregate interest rate of 3.85 percent and is looking to put in a lot more.
“We could come out smelling pretty good with this,” said Bucko.
Whitten said he would like to take a hard look at the possibility of
investing the monies from the sale of Porter hospital. He said at the start
of next year, the Council will hold sessions to outline how the hospital
money will be used.
The full Council also saw representatives from Porter-Starke, Family & Youth
Services Bureau, the Porter County Aging and Community Services, and
The latter is seeking an additional $45,000 this year which according to OE
interim director Ellen DeMartinis would preserve a few of its children
programs and job placement programs that are at risk as the non-profit
organization faces a “break-even point” in its budget.
Whitten sympathized with the request and said shake ups in the state funding
formula have forced county governments to kick in additional funding for
“There are people on the end of these funds that definitely need services,”
The county too is expected to have a smaller levy for 2013 – at least $1.7
million less – due to circuit breaker losses.
The other groups said they would be grateful for any amount the County could
give them and are asking for the previous year amounts. The Council on Aging
received $120,000 last year from the county and $100,000 was allocated to
Family and Youth Services.
Biggs instructed them to give breakdowns of their funds to the council.
“We have to have this in our county. It fills a big void,” he said.
must approve Valpo school budget
Earlier on Thursday, the Council received final word from the Department of
Local Government Finance that it has no choice but to accept the
responsibility for adopting the budget and tax rates for the Valparaiso
This is contrary to a memorandum sent by the State Board of Accounts last
week that the Valparaiso City Council would be the sole body responsible,
but DLGF Commissioner Brian Bailey ruled the SBA has no authority in the
matter and the county is obligated by statute to sign off on VCS’s budget.
The law says if the assessed value of a school district with an unelected
board like Valpo is not contained within the incorporated areas of a city,
“then the appropriate body to adopt is the county council.”
Whitten told members of the media he will take the responsibility seriously.
“I’m not interested in politics. I’m not interested in gamesmanship with
this,” he said.
The Council has contracted Crowe Horwath of Indianapolis of up to $10,000 to
assist the council in deciphering the budget which will have a public
hearing on Sept. 25 at 5:30 p.m.