Voters in the county’s general election on Nov. 6 can vote for up to three
of the six candidates running for the at-large seats on the Porter County
On the ballot are the top three vote-getters in this May’s Democrat and
Republican primary races. Voters in the general election can vote for up to
any three candidates regardless of party affiliation.
Running as Democrats are incumbents Sylvia Graham and current Council
President Dan Whitten. Robert Poparad, a former 1st District Council
representative, is the third Democrat candidate. For the Republicans, the
candidates are newcomers Mark Hoffman, Ralph Neff and Joe Wszolek.
At-large council races are voted on throughout the county. Early voting
officially began this week.
The Chesterton Tribune invited all candidates to take part in a
questionnaire. The Tribune set word limits for each question and
reserved the right to edit for length.
1. Age, place of residence, occupation.
Graham: unanswered, Valparaiso, retired RN and family nurse practitioner
Poparad: 54, Burns Harbor, small business owner
Whitten: 46, Bankruptcy Attorney at Whitten and Whitten in Portage.
Hoffman: 62, Valparaiso, Retired athletic director, coach and teacher at
Valparaiso High School
Neff: 53, Valparaiso, business owner
Wszolek: 58, Portage, Residential Real Estate Appraiser
2.To Poparad, Hoffman, Neff and Wszolek: What are your qualifications for
joining the County Council? (50 words)
Poparad: I’ve served two terms representing the 1st district on the
County Council. I was re-elected three times for Burns Harbor council. I’m
well versed in county government.
Hoffman: I have been part of a team for most of my life, as a player and
as a coach. I have been an assistant and I have been a head coach. We need
to lead and we need to work together. That is what I am all about.
Neff: I started a union business 25 years ago which has prospered to
over a $12 million a year corporation. I have negotiated union contracts and
am a Trustee for Health & Welfare for a statewide union. I serve on numerous
nonprofit boards and am very involved in our community.
Wszolek: I have been a leader in Northwest Indiana for more than 20
years, have been a small business owner since 1992 as a residential
appraiser, have served on various boards and commissions, and currently
serve as President of the Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of
To Graham and Whitten: What have been your accomplishments in office? (50
Graham: Initiated the purchase of a state certified tax software system;
assisted in procuring a five-year ambulance contract with Porter Hospital;
supported TQM, served on PCACS, EMA and the Plan Commission; supported
upgrades for emergency services; supported the Veterans and Child Support
courts and made certain there were no new taxes.
Whitten: During my time as Council president, I have been instrumental
in protecting the citizens’ health, safety and welfare by expanding public
services such as the Drug Task Force, the Health Department and the
Sheriff’s Department. I have fought to prevent unnecessary tax and spending
and have kept Porter County solvent.
3. To Poparad, Hoffman, Neff and Wszolek: Why have you decided to run for
office? (50 words)
Poparad: The County is not functioning the way it should because of too
many special agendas of people who want to play politics rather than do
their jobs. I will bring a fresh voice to the table along with experience.
Hoffman: I have been living in Porter County for over 40 years and I
want to give back to this great county. My objective is to serve the
citizens of Porter County to the best of my abilities.
Neff: Part of being a successful business person is giving back and
improving our community. Right now I see a non-efficient, “What’s in it for
me” county government. We need to get back to basics and do what is right
for Porter County and its residents – “Positive Leadership.”
Wszolek: I am dissatisfied with the current Council leadership and the
lack of professionalism and civility that I have observed over recent years.
I will ensure that the council conducts business in an orderly and
respectful manner that fosters confidence in our county government.
To Graham and Whitten: Why are you seeking reelection? (50 words)
Graham: Porter County is beautiful, diverse and undergoing changes. My
education, healthcare career, active participation in the community and
Council experience makes me one of the most experienced and committed
candidates. I have the time, energy and the desire to serve another term.
Whitten: I want to continue to be the advocate of the hard working
people of Porter County and to protect their hard earned money. There are
many projects that I want to see to completion such as the drainage system
upgrades, 911 consolidation, services for seniors and improving the Animal
4. A financial advisor said the County can expect continual decrease in
revenue due to the state tax caps. What would you suggest the County do to
keep a balanced budget? (75 words)
Graham: Priorities must be set. The County now has the Umbaugh financial
report and it states we are relying too much on property taxes to finance
county government. For the most part, county assessed values are falling.
The report suggests CEDIT taxes that we are receiving be incorporated to
support the county budget. This will take the cooperation of the
Commissioners and the Council.
Poparad: The County Council’s sole role is budgeting. It has to make
sure all departments are funded adequately to operate. There is enough tax
revenue to fund county government, but sometimes hard decisions have to be
Whitten: Each budget session must be an opportunity to prioritize our
expenses and capital projects. We have to take a stand against creating
another income tax, improper TIF districting and pet projects in order to
promote balance and economic prosperity in the county. Between increased
development along the hospital corridor, continued commercial growth and
holding the line on unnecessary spending, we can continue to provide the
county with services, create new jobs and keep taxes down.
Hoffman: We need to work together and develop a plan. We have options to
explore, however we must consider what our priorities are. Working with the
other community agencies we will determine where the money should be
Neff: Keeping a county budget is no different than keeping a business
budget or even a house budget just on a larger scale. You cannot spend more
than you are taking in. Obviously the economy is the biggest factor in our
decreased revenue. We need to attract economic development. Until then the
County needs to continually advocate better efficiency through all
departments. Consolidate where possible and provide the same if not better
Wszolek: Cutting the size of county government has to be an element of
any comprehensive solution, but there is no single answer. We must
significantly reduce the long term operating costs of county government.
Some officeholders have demonstrated by example that it is possible to
accomplish a greater mission with fewer employees and less spending on
contractors without sacrificing services. This should be the model for how
county offices operate.
5. With the Porter Regional Hospital in operation, the County Council and
the County Commissioners have access to $163 million in principal as long as
there is unanimous consent from both boards. Should the principal preserved?
Why or why not? (75 words)
Graham: Preserving the hospital principal is Porter County's future. I
will not vote to spend this. I also feel we should reinvest a portion of the
yearly hospital interest money back into the hospital principal money. To
get a better return on the principal money, a county bond fund might be
considered as well as an endowment county fund. The principal money will
remain safe on my watch.
Poparad: The principal should never be touched. It should be placed in
an irrevocable trust where no politician can get their fingers on it. This
is a onetime infusion of funds. Up to 20 percent can be safely budgeted to
fill the gap, i.e. 911, jail, public safety. The remaining interest should
be allowed to accumulate for large capital projects. This will eliminate
bonds and interest on those bonds. It will also require planning from
Whitten: We absolutely need to preserve the principal because it is the
county taxpayers’ nest egg. Once the principal has been depleted, the
taxpayers will lose the benefit of the interest. We should live within our
means and strategize the use of interest earned for county projects and
creation of new jobs. We are solvent and should remain so. If we go on a
spending spree, we will force this county into an unnecessary income tax.
Hoffman: Unanimous consent from both boards is a key. To have this we
need collaboration. We have a gift; this gift of $163 million belongs to our
citizens of Porter County. We could use the interest to help take care of
some of our budget shortfalls. If there is a project that could better the
lives of our citizens, increase jobs and help to influence people to move to
our county, this should be explored.
Neff: Absolutely YES. By no means should this money be squandered. If
managed correctly, the county has a great source of interest income that is
not taxpayer generated. Just recently this little nest egg generated
interest of $11.8 million. It’s money that we will not have to generate. I
am open to any suggestions that would allocate a windfall and keep our taxes
down with the use of these funds
Wszolek: The principal from the Hospital sale should be in safekeeping
for the benefit of our children’s grandchildren. Porter County’s future is
bright. There are very few uses to-date that are important enough to justify
the use of these funds, despite decreases in revenue. The sale proceeds are
not burning a hole in Porter County’s pocket any time soon. Prudently
investing these proceeds for tomorrow should be the question—not how to
spend them today.
6. This year the County formed its own Redevelopment Commission with the
ability to propose tax increment financing (TIF) districts. Would you
recommend using TIFs as a tool for economic development in unincorporated
Porter County? (75 words)
Graham: I understand the advantages of forming TIF districts. However,
developing a TIF district in the area of the hospital is ill-timed. For job
growth and economic development, the hospital was granted a tax abatement
and every year it pays the County a higher portion of taxes. Until this
obligation is completed, this area should be excluded from TIFs. TIF
districts can be a successful way to stimulate economic development and
build infrastructure if used properly.
Poparad: NO. TIF zones deprive the school general fund. The state has
already tied the hands of the schools by taking over the general fund. TIFs
deprive them and all other taxing units of new revenue. There are other ways
to fund worthy projects.
Whitten: TIFs have been utilized unnecessarily. Instead of being a tool
for developing depressed areas, they have been used as a money-grab from
taxpayer pocketbooks. They’ve been used improperly to divert dollars away
from the tax levy. If this continues, it will force the county into another
income tax, which is completely unacceptable. Members of both parties in the
Legislature have tried to repeal legislation for these same objections.
Hoffman: Yes. The first question that I will consider dealing with TIF
is what is best for our county and our citizens of the county. We must be
aware of why people move to Porter County: Education and Safety. We must
make sure we do not sacrifice either one with TIF.
Neff: As I have mentioned thoughout my campaign, TIF districts are just
one example of a possible solution for economic development. TIF districts
can be very effective if properly executed. The only caveat I would insist
on is complete transparency and that programs that rely on tax funding such
as school districts are considered before approval is passed.
Wszolek: The overriding concern with TIFs is that they hurt funding to
our local schools and municipal governments. I would carefully employ a
“but-for” test in determining whether a TIF is appropriate: namely, a TIF
should only be considered if, but for the implementation of the TIF, the
economic growth would not occur. Jobs and economic growth should be a
priority, but not at the expense of the local school districts.
7. The Commissioners are considering the possibility of allowing private
groups to handle the operations of a new animal shelter and security at the
jail. Do you think the County should privatize some departments? (75 words)
Graham: I am skeptical about privatizing county government. However, I
do believe the Animal Shelter may be an ideal opportunity for this. Each
case must be looked at individually.
Poparad: I have no history on privatization. I’ve not seen any facts or
figures on the subject therefore I do not have an informed opinion.
Whitten: I am typically not a fan of privatization. Without oversight,
the expense to the citizens can be unbridled. However, with respect to the
Shelter, I am open to a partnership that ensures that it remains no-kill,
but continues to improve the treatment and adoption of the animals. I am
open to options in that regard. We need to look at different staffing at the
jail before making a move to privatization.
Hoffman: We must work with the commissioners to accomplish what we need
to do in our county. Safety is very important on my list. If this is the
best for our county, then I am all for it. Cost and jobs created or jobs
lost is another faction that we need to make sure is not affected by
privatizing some departments.
Neff: I do agree Porter County desperately needs an Animal Shelter and a
review of the jail and a few other departments. If privatization does not
increase taxes and lower the competencies of that particular department then
the county should consider this option. However each county department is
unique. Before allowing a private group to solicit their operations, a board
of experts should be established and ensure accountability for the agency’s
Wszolek: Public-private partnerships are a powerful and efficient way to
provide services while significantly reducing the financial burdens upon the
county budget. That being said, these types of partnerships when in the area
of public safety, such as the jail, critically affect the core function of
government and must be more highly scrutinized. These determinations are
complex and need to be handled on a case-by-case basis in order to balance
safety with efficiency.
8. The Council split 5-2 to partner with the Town of Chesterton on the 49
utility corridor project. Do you support collaborating with municipalities
with projects of this type? (75 words)
Graham: I voted no on this project because the council was setting a
precedent. This point is now moot. I will have no problems in considering
other collaborative projects that promote job growth, economic development
and safety in the county.
Poparad: Economic development does not stop at city/town limits. There
should be more cooperation between the county and its cities and towns. I
think there has to be good communication. I look forward to spearheading
that cooperation as we are all residents in the County; whether it is a city
or town, everybody benefits.
Whitten: I am open to shared and joint efforts. I voted yes to the
project because I strongly believe that it opened options to the
unincorporated area families while improving the system for Chesterton. It
is important to look toward cost savings through joint projects and shared
costs. Planning is the key. With more stakeholders in the discussions, the
better for the future of our county.
Hoffman: We all need to work together! I support working with
municipalities, townships, etc. Porter County is a great place to live and
we must maintain this at all cost.
Neff: I totally support collaborating with municipalities if it is in
the best interest of the taxpayers. We have to come together as a group and
provide the most efficient and best service we can for the residents of
Porter County and not just our own little world. If that means we may have
to invest a little money now to offset a substantial amount of money in the
future, then we should get it done.
Wszolek: It absolutely makes sense for the County to partner with
municipalities to support the infrastructure, to enhance the local economy
and encourage job creation. This is the type of expense that either the
County or the municipality would ordinarily have to bear alone, or risk lost
opportunities to create jobs. These partnerships minimize the risk to each
entity, and foster the necessary support for future economic growth and
9. What actions can the County Council take to preserve the quality of life
in Porter County? (50 words)
Graham: We incorporated E-911 into county government and are in the
process of making all county government complexes ADA compliant. We support
human services with PCACS, OE and Porter-Starke. We are blessed with an
excellent sheriff department and highway department. Infrastructure is being
addressed. We must strive to maintain these services.
Poparad: Maintain public safety to the high standards we have now. Keep
taxes low to spur companies and business to relocate. Good paying jobs will
follow and that is the key to good quality of life.
Whitten: We need to promote the health and welfare of our county. We can
do this by creating jobs from the hospital interest money as well as funding
services we need in order to keep the county a safe environment where people
want to raise their families and educate their children.
Hoffman: We need a County Council that has a purpose to work for the
citizens and to do what is right for them. We need to work with the
Commissioners and the other agencies of our county. The County Council can
do this and we must do this!
Neff: “What’s in it for me” government has to stop. Working together
with the entire county, municipalities, and cities should be the goal. As a
public servant if I am going to take your tax money I better have a good
reason to spend it as well as possible.
Wszolek: Quality of life has a direct relationship with responsible and
limited government. Porter County’s future depends on stable property taxes,
which requires fiscal discipline. The Council needs to make decisions based
upon a long term comprehensive plan—NOT simply handing out money on a first
come, first serve basis.