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.
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
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
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