You may know her as one of your at-large County Council members but, after
six years of keeping watch over the County’s finances, Democrat Laura Shurr
Blaney believes her talents are better suited for a new office.
Blaney is a candidate this year competing for the South District County
Commissioner seat. She faces Republican newcomer Mike Heinold in the Nov. 6
“I’ve got some ideas. I feel that making policy is one of my strengths,”
Blaney explained her ambition to seek the Commissioner seat during an
interview with the Chesterton Tribune. The duties of a commissioner
involve executing effective management over many county departments,
conducting the day-to-day business of the county, and providing guidance for
economic development, she said.
Blaney, 44, cites her experience in business, education, and her years on
the County Council as her qualifications.
As a councilwoman, Blaney’s proudest accomplishments include establishing a
satellite site in Portage for the Health Department, netting funds for the
Veteran’s Court, improving conditions at the Animal Shelter, working with
state officials on finding more funding for the County’s Enhanced 911
center, balancing the County’s budget each year, and supporting the
partnership with the Town of Chesterton to provide utilities for the Ind. 49
Before entering politics, Blaney graduated from Purdue University with
Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Science and taught Biology and Chemistry
at Purdue North Central.
She and her husband Ken are small business owners operating “One Guy with
Tools” and are very active in the lives of their four children. The couple,
along with Ken’s parents, had owned Kelsey’s Steak House located in
Valparaiso and Portage and recently sold the business.
A Porter Township resident, Blaney also has a Duneland connection. She
coached cross country and track at Chesterton High School during the early
to mid 1990s assisting coaches Larry James and Steve Kearney and
occasionally crosses paths with CHS alumni who remember her as “Miss Shurr.”
A top item on Blaney’s to-do list if elected is job creation, which is why
she is a proponent for the Ind. 49 corridor project.
She also favors working with all municipalities in similar projects in
whatever way possible to attract businesses and help them realize their
“If we support each other, it’s good for everybody,” Blaney said.
Cooperation she said will ensure that growth is planned and done in an
For the Ind. 49 corridor and the area around the new hospital, Blaney
prefers the types of business to locate be those that can provide residents
with sustainable incomes.
“We don’t need the minimum wage jobs. This county needs jobs with good
paying wages,” Blaney said.
The County should also realize the growth potential around the Porter County
Municipal Airport, another potential hotbed for development, Blaney said.
Located north of U.S. 30 near the 49 bypass, the airport is one area
officials are eyeing for a tax increment financing (TIF) district. Another
area named is around the new Porter hospital.
Blaney said TIF districts “can be a great tool for economic development” as
long as they are written in a way that school districts get the property tax
dollars that are owed to them.
“But there has got to be a way to put in the infrastructure,” she added.
hospital sale money
Another possible tool for economic development is the County’s roughly $180
million nest egg in money related to the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital.
Now that Porter Regional Hospital has opened, both the County Commissioners
and the Council can access the $163 million sale principal with a unanimous
vote from both boards.
Blaney said she is in favor of coming up with a plan for the approximately
$12 million in interest money. Some of that could go to capital projects as
long as it does not incur any additional operating costs.
“I don’t think the interest money should be sitting there earning interest
at a rate less than the inflation rate when we have significant needs,”
Blaney said. “I feel like we are at a point where we could do great things
for the county and not just squander the money.”
As for the principal, Blaney said the County should leave that alone for now
with the idea that interest rates will increase.
In regards to public safety, the “backbone of what we do,” Blaney said the
County needs to look at all options and think outside of the box on opening
the B pod at the Porter County Jail. The County also needs to first make
sure medical needs at the jail are covered before hiring additional
To mitigate the overcrowding issue, she said the county should attempt to
implement more early release programs. All vested parties – judges, the
probation dept., sheriff, County Council and Commissioners -- will need to
be involved in the discussion, she said.
The current board of commissioners announced their intention recently to
review private firms who may be able to perform jail security more
cost-effectively than the County. Blaney said she would be for
private-public relationships if they can provide a savings and are
appropriate for the County’s needs, like the current partnering discussions
with Lakeshore PAWS to manage the future Animal Shelter.
While ready to tackle the County’s largest challenges, Blaney also talks of
“little things” she would like to accomplish to improve the quality of life
for her constituents, which includes supporting the arts and wellness
Following the City of Valparaiso’s Fit City model, Blaney would introduce a
similar program at the county level for both children and adults. That could
also create the opportunity to find some corporate sponsorships.
A “fit county” initiative could also reduce the County’s insurance costs,
She supports updating county services through technology and would like
there to be a Porter County cell phone application available to give
citizens meeting schedules, answer some of the questions they may have and
promote events throughout the county.
Blaney said she would like to see the community more engaged in the affairs
of county government, especially its younger citizens.
“Not enough people understand what county government does or realize the
impact it has on their lives. It has great impact, maybe more so than the
Blaney remembers spending a day working in the County recorder’s office as a
high school student which prompted her appreciation for county government
and said she would like to see those school programs reintroduced.
A full time
acknowledges she and her opponent Heinold hold similar views on many of the
issues at hand, but what she believe sets her apart is her six-year
involvement on the County Council and her pledge to be the County’s only
full-time commissioner if elected.
challenges like the jail overcrowding, funding E-911 and keeping up drainage
improvements will require bipartisan efforts and Blaney said she is adept at
reaching across party lines.
Despite all the
talk over budget crunches in this year’s County Council budget hearings,
Blaney would like to assure residents the County is very healthy
financially. She said the County should stop making decisions on the worst
case scenarios and take a look at more positive scenarios.
“We have to
remember what makes this county special. But there is more to do, that’s for
sure,” Blaney said.
Local businessman Mike Heinold will be the new kid on the block if he wins
the bid for the Porter County South District Commissioner but he is ready to
take the best ideas the County has and make them better.
In order to keep the county going forward, it must learn to
“synergize”—which Heinold describes as combining two separate ideas to form
a better one, or to say it another way – “two heads are better than one.”
Heinold, 45, who is running as a Republican, said he knows the effectiveness
of this strategy directly from various management roles he’s held over the
last 25 years. After working for the family-owned Heinold Feeds, he became a
division manager and executive vice-president for Chester Inc. in Valparaiso
where he worked for ten years.
Heinold says his years as a consultant and sales director at the Franklin
Covey Company gave him a strong understanding of management and fiduciary
responsibility, which he says would be his benchmarks as a commissioner.
“Everybody wants better services but not new taxes, so you have to make
better use of your money,” Heinold said.
Heinold is also the co-owner and managing partner of Iddea Group, which
offers IT consulting and services, and he feels his expertise can aid the
County as it looks for ways to make its services available online.
This is Heinold’s first run for public office although he has had experience
behind the scenes campaigning for his dad Vic Heinold, a former state
senator. Heinold said after the 2010 elections, he had been encouraged by
several people to run for commissioner given his management background and
his natural ability to build relationships.
If you build it,
they will come
Of all the things he hopes to do as a commissioner, Heinold said job
creation is one of his top ambitions. He said having more jobs and
businesses is a potential solution for the County to overcome its funding
challenges with the loss of revenue from the state’s tax caps.
The County, Heinold said, can gain more revenue from commercial properties
as their property taxes are capped at three percent as opposed to
residential properties which have a one percent cap and farmland and rental
properties both capped at two percent.
But in order to bring the jobs here, a county has to have low taxes, good
schools and, foremost, infrastructure, Heinold said, which is why he favors
projects such as the recent Ind. 49 Utility Corridor project. The project
was approved in order to increase capacity from the Chesterton water and
sewer pipes to give the County the option of bringing those utilities to the
east of Ind. 49 between the Chesterton town limits and U.S. 6.
Heinold quotes the famous line from the film Field of Dreams to explain why
having resources ready is so crucial to economic development – “If you build
it, they will come.”
600 jobs x 4
Heinold said that before the recession hit in 2008, Porter County had an
unemployment rate below 5 percent, compared to the latest figure of 7.7
percent. The county could see those pre-recession figures again if 2,400 of
the 8,000 residents looking for jobs are hired. Heinold said he aims for the
creation of 600 new jobs for each of the fours year he would be in office if
To accomplish goals like this, Heinold said officials must work towards them
“The players work harder when you are keeping score,” he said. “You got to
have a goal in mind in order to work towards it.”
Heinold said he is anxious to see the final report released by the Porter
County Jobs Cabinet later this year and assess the best methods to grow jobs
for each section of the county.
He sees tax increment finance (TIF) districts proposed through the county’s
new Redevelopment Commission as a viable option to build up infrastructure
and “not just roads, curbs and highways” but just as important the
availability of high bandwidth Internet connection in those areas.
Heinold said TIF districts can be implemented in a way that pass-throughs
ensure that school districts receive their money and in the long run the
money from TIF districts will come back as revenue for the County.
As county officials mull what action to take with the $180 million resulting
from the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital, Heinold contends that the sale
proceeds of $163 million should be preserved as a “great resource” and a
“safety net” for the County and the interest it generates can be looked at
as an endowment to create new economic projects.
Another option for the principal would be to use the money for loans, he
If a project does come along that gets enough support from all County
Council members and Commissioners, Heinold said he would agree to tap into
the principal if it can serve the citizens.
“It would be irresponsible of us not to do it that way,” he said.
Service to all citizens is one of three points Heinold calls the imperatives
of holding public office.
Another is to exercise fiduciary responsibility by improving customer value,
or in this case the taxpayer.
The third imperative is to set egos aside and synergize your ideas with
those of other public officials.
Heinold said a key for the County to meet its many goals is to maintain an
atmosphere for open dialogue to share ideas.
“Every opportunity is unique. If you don’t agree on something, it makes
sense just to have an open conversation,” he said.
One situation that suffered because leaders were not included in discussions
was the County’s merger with the Valparaiso and Portage 911 dispatch
centers, Heinold said. He said he hopes to work with municipal leaders,
police and fire departments on how to improve E-911 operations since it is a
“Porter County issue” and public safety plays largely into a county’s
quality of life.
Other topics Heinold brings up for the county to discuss openly is
preserving the county’s landmarks like the Memorial Opera House, how County
Economic Development Income Tax dollars should be utilized, overcrowding at
the Porter County Jail, finding a centralized site for the new Animal
Shelter, working on a long term strategy to add additional office space
inside county facilities if necessary and exploring options for the County
employee health insurance.
Health insurance is the largest part of personnel costs which make up the
most of the County’s operating budget, Heinold said. He contends that the
County is obligated to explore all options for both traditional and
self-insured insurance options to ensure the best quality coverage and
affordability for employees.
Heinold is vying
with Democrat Laura Shurr Blaney for the Commissioner seat in the Nov. 6
platform also has a heavy focus on job creation. Heinold points out that his
opponent was one of the County Council members who voted to drop out of the
Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority which was created by state
legislators with the intention of bringing more jobs to the region.
differentiates himself by highlighting his experience as a longtime leader
in business, sales and organizational development. Blaney operates a small
business with her husband and has served on the County Council for six
in Morgan Twp. with his wife Beth and their three sons.