The Porter County Council got off to a smooth start this year despite the
fact that financial challenges loom in the days ahead.
Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he will plan for earlier
budget hearings this year to adequately address all big-ticket funding items
facing potential shortfalls, more notably Enhanced 911 and county employee
insurance. Budget sessions traditionally have started in mid to late
“I will strive to do a better job than last year,” said Whitten, who was
elected by his peers to lead the group for a third year in a row. Elected
vice-president was Karen Conover, R-3rd, who will take the reins from fellow
council member Jim Biggs, R-1st.
To get the ball rolling on figuring out funding solutions, the council at
their reorganizational meeting Thursday spoke of scheduling future meetings
to commence urgent discussions regarding insurance and E-911.
Insurance costs jumped from $7 million to more than $10 million in 2011. The
county has been using reserve money to fund E-911 which is expected to dry
by 2013 incurring shortfalls of more than $2 million per year if a remedy is
not in place.
While the council is slated to meet for its routine meeting Jan. 24, members
will be using that meeting to conduct business fixing payroll snafus and
Biggs felt it would be best to hold a special meeting exclusively on the
topic of insurance at a time convenient for the stakeholders, presumably in
Whitten asked to have representatives from Anton Insurance give the council
a three-year breakdown and explanations on the number of claims. More input
will be sought from an actuary who will also be invited to weigh in on the
Also in the works is a collaborative meeting between the county and its two
largest municipalities, Portage and Valparaiso, to hear the needs of their
E-911 centers which were consolidated with the county’s in recent years.
“That conversation has to be bigger than us. We’ve got to have everybody
come to the table,” Whitten said.
The chances for the state legislature to raise surcharges on mobile phones
are getting dimmer due to a shortened state assembly, Whitten said, but the
council is planning at their Jan. 24 meeting to sign off on a resolution to
local state officials explaining the urgency.
Biggs cautioned that more must be done, saying that even if cell phone
surcharges are raised, the sum of money will “not even come close” to the
funds needed to run the center.
He mentioned all counties in the state are facing the same dilemma with
their E-911 centers. Conover said the counties are doing nothing but what
the state has mandated.
Council members Jim Polarek, R-4th and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said they would
like to know from the county commissioners if they will be using Cumulative
Capital Development funds to help fix the radio problems plaguing emergency
response stations around the county. The commissioners in December heard a
proposal for $895,000 to purchase new equipment that would be compliant with
Rivas also pushed to develop a timeline for funding the $15 million to $20
million in county drainage projects over the next five years.
“Let’s get some things done,” said Rivas.
In other reorganizational business, council members chose citizen
appointments to fill seats on several county boards. Rudy Sutton will remain
on the Alcoholic Beverage Commission; attorney Mitch Peters was reappointed
to the county’s tourism commission; Chesterton Tribune reporter Vicki
Urbanik was selected again to serve on the Property Tax Assessment Board of
The Porter County Parks and Recreation board will receive a new member,
Craig Kenworthy of Morgan Township (see related story).
For appointments to local economic development commissions, the board named
former council member Bob Poparad to the Burns Harbor EDC, Paul Shinn to the
Chesterton EDC, Mike Sarver to Portage EDC and Curt Gill to the Valparaiso
EDC by recommendation of Mayor Jon Costas.
For their internal appointments, the council selected Polarek to serve on
the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission. Biggs gave up his seat
on the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District which was picked up
by Council member Laura Blaney, D-at Large. Council member Sylvia Graham,
D-at large, will continue to serve on the county’s nine-member Plan
Commission. Conover was willing to continue her position on the Recycling
and Waste Reduction District Board. Blaney will serve on the Museum Advisory
Board and Biggs will be the representative on the Juvenile Justice Advisory
For the revived county animal shelter advisory board, Blaney will carry on
as the council’s appointment.
Biggs and Rivas will jointly serve on the newly-formed E-911 Policy Board.
Council members went down the list of departments to choose who will serve
as liaisons to the offices. Blaney and Whitten will be the council liaisons
for the animal shelter, Polarek and Rivas for the assessor, Rivas and
Conover for the auditor’s office and Polarek and Graham for the Treasurer’s
The council also unanimously voted to retain Scott McClure of the law firm
Rhame & Elwood as their legal counsel this year.