Government officials took a giant step forward in the effort to accomplish
much needed capital improvements when the County Council approved 6-0, on
first reading Tuesday, an ordinance to issue a bond for up to $30 million
for building renovations and infrastructure improvements.
“We are literally
about to embark on creating history in this state,” said Commissioner Jim
The bond, if
approved on second reading by the Council next month, will be paid back over
a period of 20 years using $2.1 million annually out of the interest earned
from the investment of the proceeds from the sale of the county-owned Porter
Memorial Hospital, said County Attorney Scott McClure.
will also create a rainy day fund to hold some of the interest earned. If
neither the interest nor the rainy day fund can pay the $2.1 million in a
certain year, the balance will be paid with the County’s distribution of
local income tax.
History in the
Biggs said he
doesn’t believe that something like this has ever been done before, that a
County can take on a $30 million bond to fix its properties without having
to create a new tax or fee.
“I can’t think of a
better way to use the people’s money and that is to spend it on the
properties that people own,” said Biggs.
Council members Dan
Whitten, D-at large, and Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said they are proud to
be a part of this decision. Whitten recalled the steps it’s taken to get to
this point since the County sold Porter Memorial Hospital in 2007. The most
important was the creation of the Porter County Government Nonprofit
Charitable Foundation, done through a change in state statute that allowed
the County to earn a higher interest rate on its $150 million investment of
hospital sale proceeds.
“We’ve come down a
long road to get here with a lot of twists. All of these things have been
done with the goal and end vision of maximizing the return on this money to
the benefit of Porter County residents,” Whitten said.
Where other county
governments have had to lay off employees including police officers or have
had to pass income taxes to sustain operations, Whitten said this county has
managed to avoid that with the proper steps taken.
“I hope people in
Porter County realize that we are head and shoulders above that. We’ve
planned, we’ve worked hard, we’ve taken the challenge and you, the
residents, are going to reap the benefits. I am tremendously proud of that,”
Graham said the
bond is going to create jobs and be a solution for “a lot of problems.”
“I’m very happy to
be a part of this,” she said.
The projects the
bond will go toward, as presented by the three County Commissioners at the
Council’s June 27 meeting:
-- Purchasing and
remodeling the former County Jail building at 157 Franklin. St. in
Valparaiso. The Commissioners plan to move a number of offices there that
need additional space such as the courts.
-- Repair or
replace three bridges -- Bridge 126 on CR 700N over Salt Creek east of Ind.
149, Bridge 84 on CR 800S west of Hebron over Cobbs Creek, and Bridge 135 on
Old Porter Rd. west of Ind. 149 in the City of Portage.
of the front entrance of the Porter County Administration Building in
-- Upgrades for the
Porter County Expo Center at Ind. 49 and Division Rd.
improvements and additional rooms and parking at the North County Complex on
Willowcreek Rd. in Portage.
-- Improvements to
the courtrooms and offices of the Porter County Courthouse located in
Making the motion
to approve the bond issuance on first reading was Council member Karen
Conover, R-3rd, who said the last time the County borrowed money was when it
was decided to bond for the construction of a new jail facility nearly two
“We made the right
decision 20 years ago and I think we are making the right decision now,”
Later in the
discussion, Council member Andy Bozak, R-1st, asked the Commissioners if
they had seen the proposal from City of Portage officials sent the previous
night asking the County to consider partnering with them to build a new
building on Central Ave. instead of renovating the North County Complex.
President Jeff Good, R-Center, replied they did receive it and said that his
board wishes to move forward with the plan they have already proposed.
“We did look at the
location (at Central Ave.). We have the numbers. Let’s be clear. There have
been things in the City of Portage administration that are questionable. I
don’t think we are in a position to commit,” Good said, adding that its the
Commissioners’ job to “steer clear of these things.”
Biggs said that if
the Commissioners did want to relocate their building in north Porter
County, they would consider a more central location for the all residents,
including those who live in Duneland, such as the corner of U.S. 6 and 149
or closer to Porter Regional Hospital.
“We are looking at
what the most cost-effective approach we can take is and that is
renovation,” Biggs said.
Shurr Blaney, D-South, said having to bond for $40 million to honor the
Portage request instead of $30 million would mean larger annual payments and
the County would have to tie up more income tax revenue or interest from the
hospital sale investment.
Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, who represents the City of Portage asked if the
Commissioners would study the plan again as it could benefit the residents
there and talk over with city officials what can be done with the North
County Complex property once it is vacant.
But Good and Biggs
shot down Rivas’ request saying they don’t believe the proposal fits the
interests of the overall body of constituents.
“This is nothing
but a sideshow (by Portage officials),” said Good.
Biggs after the
meeting told the Chesterton Tribune that he hopes the residents of
Portage and Portage Twp. realize that the Commissioners are sensitive to
their needs and that they are investing $10 million in improvements at the
North County Complex and a $20 million bond by the Stormwater Management
Board also approved Tuesday to fix the drainage woes in the Twin Creeks
Conservancy District and South Haven.
Rivas said he
“didn’t agree 100 percent” with the proposal, but said he would vote in
support of the bond issue as he sees the need for projects to get done, such
as the plaza renovation for the County Administration Building.
Council opened the floor up for public comments.
resident Ed Gutt spoke in favor of the bond. “I would like to see hospital
money go to these projects because it is for the people who paid into that
Porter County hospital over the years and it’s giving back to the people who
Candace Shaw said “it’s almost magical” that the Council stated a few months
ago they had no mechanism for allocating money earned from the Foundation
when The Caring Place came to request support for a new building that serves
county residents, and now it is approving something that would use those
same funds. She said the Foundation money should not be used for government
“pet projects” as the Foundation is a separate nonprofit entity.
Shaw said the
County should seek a legal opinion from an independent counsel on whether it
can legally move money from the Foundation into government coffers.
that the Government Foundation is “a creature of first impression” and was
created under a new statute.
Council member Jeff
Larson, R-at large, said he thought it was wrong to use the term “pet
project” because these are needed improvements and not done for political
have been neglected for 20-plus years. If we don’t maintain them, we won’t
be able to use them,” Larson said.
Mike Jessen, R-4th, lauded the Commissioners for their hard work and time to
come up with the plan that gained unanimous support for as large as it is.
“It’s not a perfect
plan. I don’t know what a perfect plan would look like. You could argue it a
lot of ways but we’ve made a lot of progress and I think it’s important to
keep the progress moving forward,” said Jessen.
All Council members
voted in favor of the bond issue except for Whitten who left the meeting
prior to the vote.