Chesterton Tribune

Porter County mulls consultant for multiyear fiscal plan

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By DOUG ELISH

The Porter County Council and Commissioners have spent the last couple weeks getting started on a long-term strategic plan.

Some expert help should soon be on the way.

At Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting, financial advisor Todd Samuelson of H.J. Umbaugh & Associates appeared at the board’s request to detail the services his firm could provide the county for helping to create a three-to-five year comprehensive master plan.

After hearing what Samuelson said, commissioner president John Evans asked him to return with an estimate and a contract to get the process started.

The need for a strategic plan became evident during the council’s budget hearings over the past month as funding is needed for several major projects and recurring expenditures, such as a new animal shelter, the E911 center’s shortfall, rising health insurances costs, drainage problems and several other proposed projects.

Samuelson said his firm has worked with several counties around the state, including Starke, White, Shelby, Wayne and Boone, as well as several towns and school systems to create master plans.

He said the scope of every plan is different, but he would intend to meet with all of Porter County’s elected officials and department heads to assess what they have, what they need and the best way to make it happen.

“Our role is to create a plan, be a guide,” Samuelson said. “I don’t envision coming in and just telling Porter County what to do.”

Samuelson said depending on the scope the process of assessing needs and creating a plan could take anywhere from 30 to 90 days and cost in the range of $10,000 to $40,000.

He said he expects to take the next 10 days to have preliminary meetings and create a contract for the plan. After that the planning process will begin.

Needs Study results

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the results of a Needs Study on the Porter County Administration Building were released.

Evans requested the $5,000 study to “do his due diligence” in assessing the capability of the current building.

The study, conducted by the original architects of the 18-year-old building, suggested the county offices need more space to operate at peak ability, according to Victor Ritter of Design Organization. Ritter detailed the shortcomings the study identified for the current building, including a lack of meeting and storage space for several of the county’s offices.

Some of the main issues were with the voter registration office not having enough space for voting machines, the assessor’s office being split between two floors and inadequate space for meetings and teaching sessions because those areas are being used for storage or have had other offices moved into them.

Evans cited the recent cancelation of a plan commission meeting for the joint council and commissioner strategic plan meeting as evidence more space was needed. He said he plans to recommend the county purchase the building across the street at 152 Indiana Ave and move some offices and meetings. He made the same suggestion earlier in the year.

“I think the time to purchase that building is now,” Evans said. “I think this study brings that out.”

Evans also said real estate prices may never be lower, so he plans to recommend purchasing the building to the county council. He also asked Ritter to make the same presentation with the needs study results to the county council.

Council vice president Jim Biggs said he has seen the study and while he disputes the need for more space, he is even more concerned about increasing the cost of operating county government having just struggled to create the 2012 budget. He said with the large number of expenditures the county already has ahead of it, he doesn’t want to add to that burden.

“We simply can’t afford to grow county government,” Biggs said. “We can afford to build and buy these buildings, but can we afford to operate them?”

Previous estimates have put the cost of the building at just over $1 million.

 

 

Posted 10/19/2011