Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Biggs and Yelton vie for GOP nomination to County Council to represent Duneland

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs faces a challenge from Kyle Yelton in the race for the 1st District County Council seat in the upcoming Republican primary election.

Biggs is running for a second term on the Council while Yelton is a newcomer to County politics.

Election Day is Tuesday, May 6, and early voting begins on Tuesday, April 8.

Council District 1 includes all precincts in Liberty, Jackson, Pine, and Westchester Townships with the exception of a portion of Westchester 17. It also contains Portage Twp. precincts 4 and 6 and Center Twp. precincts 11 and 25.

Only residents living in those precincts may vote in the District 1 race.

The Chesterton Tribune invited both candidates to respond to a questionnaire.

The Tribune set word limits for each question and reserved the right tp cut off any response in excess of the limit.

1. Age, place of residency, occupation

Biggs: 56, Town of Chesterton, National Accounts Manager for SEB Security Services.

Yelton: 26, Liberty Township, Financial Representative for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.

2. To Biggs: What are your accomplishments in office and why should the voters re-elect you? To Yelton: What are your qualifications for this office and why should the voters unseat the incumbent for you? (150 words)

Biggs: I have served on the County Council for approximately 39 months. As such, I have had the opportunity to vote on three different general fund budgets. In 2011, I voted to freeze county spending. In 2012, I voted to cut county spending by nearly 9 percent. In 2013, I voted against increasing county spending that resulted in creating a deficit of $2.8 million. The demand for the services that are expected to be delivered by county government rarely decreases year to year. For that reason, balancing revenue decline with demand emphasizes the need to extend our planning horizons beyond one year. It has become critical that we develop a 3 to 5 year plan in which to manage our affairs. I have supported this concept during my entire term as a member of the County Council. Simply looking for more ways to create more revenue to spend isnít the answer.

Yelton: A lifelong Duneland resident and graduate of Chesterton High School, I learned the importance of teamwork on the Trojan football squad. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Communications. Iíve benefited from our Duneland community, and strongly believe in giving back to others. I am a volunteer coach for the CHS football team, volunteer my time and expertise to teach financial literacy in Duneland area schools. Any incumbent should provide leadership to identify and solve problems, grow the economy and make the quality of life better for our citizens. Regrettably, after nearly three years, the Council continues its dysfunctional approach, led primarily by this incumbent. Press conferences, rhetoric and blame games donít solve problems. If we want future generations to live, work and contribute to Porter County, we need a new, shared spirit of teamwork and cooperation to get Porter County government on the right track and moving forward again.

3. What are the key issues in this race? (150 words)

Biggs: Over the last three years several county officials, including myself, have warned about the declining tax revenues coming into county government. Sadly, our warnings were ignored by the council majority, as well as the Board of Commissioners. Voters should know that in 2012 Porter Countyís general fund net revenue collected was $47,642,260.94. Just one year later, our net revenue collected in 2013 dropped to $38,868,272.84. County government is a large complex operation. How well we manage ourselves out of this deficit will depend greatly on elected officials understanding of whatís really triggering the problem. We cannot simply expand our commercial tax base as some have suggested because those actions do not address the real source which created the fiscal shortfall in the first place. I believe we must first create a long-term comprehensive plan that preserves a standard of fiscal and operations accountability.

Yelton: The primary responsibility of the County Council is fiscal management. Closing the gap between expenses and revenues must be the primary issue the Council addresses. Working together with Commissioners, officeholders and department heads we can find ways to provide quality services on a most cost efficient basis. We must also find alternative sources of revenues without tax increases to fill the shortfalls left in general fund revenues due to property tax caps. The other key issue has to be the dysfunction under which the County Council conducts itself. Every candidate says the right things, promises to do a better job of working with other Council members and office holders. The voters are weary of these empty promises at all levels and expect real cooperation from their local officials. I have the team experience to work toward the common goal of making Porter County a better place.

4. Recently, the current County Council has asked departments to look at ways to cut costs this year or it will make cuts for them in order to close a budget gap. Which county departments would you target for cuts or cost savings? (100 words)

Biggs: Creating financial reporting mechanisms that are meaningful to the council should be our main priority at this time. The second goal should be to enhance the budgeting process. Currently the council only meets once a month. With a more effective budgeting process the Council could better identify where cuts should be made without leaving it up to individual departments to voluntarily offer that advice.

Yelton: Working together with fellow Council members, the Commissioners and department heads, we must look for opportunities in every department to provide quality services to our taxpayers in the most cost efficient manner possible. But, we cannot just cut our way out of our budget challenges. We must look to expand revenues without tax increases. Working together, we can prudently invest a portion of the hospital sale proceeds and generate approximately $5 million in new revenue, without a penny of increased taxes. Working together, we must advance responsible economic development and increase our commercial property tax revenues.

5. Which county departments would you protect or expand? (100 words)

Biggs: It is my belief that County government cannot afford to expand any departmentís size at this particular time. Iíll attempt to protect any service that we currently provide which is essential to protecting the health and welfare of our citizens.

Yelton: Working together, the Council and the Commissioners should follow the successful model utilized by our cities and towns by establishing an economic development department to aggressively market Porter County to new businesses. It has been over 15 months since the Porter County Jobs Cabinet presented their roadmap for economic development to the Commissioners, yet the Council has failed to even hear the Jobs Cabinet presentation. Every day that we wait, we are missing opportunities to diversify our tax base, increase our commercial property tax revenues, and bring much needed jobs to the citizens of Porter County.

6. Should Porter County use the interest from the sale of the Porter Memorial Hospital to close the budget gap? If not, what should it be used for? (125 words)

Biggs: Our County is already utilizing hospital interest money to close the budget gap. That is precisely why I did not support this yearís general fund budget because it increased spending while also spending down reserve funds at a faster rate than originally anticipated.

Yelton: The $159 million in proceeds from the hospital sale should not be used to fund government operating expenses. Discussions have occurred to determine the safest investment options that can yield higher interest proceeds. County government - the Council and Commissioners - must take action to decide in how many baskets the money should be placed, and what the greatest return on these investments should be. Citizens should have a voice in how the money is invested. Capital projects such as establishing a stormwater district, economic development that provides more jobs and tax revenue are just a couple of ideas of how the proceeds can responsibly and effectively be utilized to move Porter County forward.

7. When the budget gap is closed, what new initiatives would you favor for Porter County Government? (125 words)

Biggs: I would recommend that we immediately begin formulating a 3 to 5 year comprehensive operations plan in which to better manage county governmentís affairs. At the same time, I would encourage the county council to create and uphold financial reporting mechanisms that are meaningful to the council and the commissioners. Both of these suggestions were recommended as best practices within the Umbaugh Report, which was written nearly two years ago by an independent auditing firm. To date, the council majority as well as the county commissioners has avoided these recommendations and changes. However, other county officials, including myself, believe that these two initiatives would encourage more accountability, transparency, and less waste of our public tax dollars.

Yelton: Working together with the Commissioners, the Council should be able to address our fiscal challenges and plan for the future at the same time. Working together, we can implement the Jobs Cabinet roadmap and bring responsible development around the new hospital, benefit the county general fund, and provide additional property tax revenues to the Duneland Schools. Working together with the public, we can plan the completion of the Raise The Barn project at Sunset Hill. Working together with the Tourism Board and Sports Tourism Cabinet, we can evaluate the feasibility of attracting amateur sports to the County, create jobs and investment, and increase our tax revenues. With a new shared vision and teamwork, together we can plan a bright future for Porter County.

8. The FBI has requested and received documents from a variety of county departments. What are your thoughts about the FBIís interest in county government? (100 words)

Biggs: The FBIís webpage states; ďItís our top priority among criminal investigations--and for good reason. Public corruption poses a fundamental threat to our national security and way of life. It impacts everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected to verdicts handed down in courts to the quality of our roads, schools, and other government services. And it takes a significant toll on our pocketbooks, wasting billions in tax dollars every year.Ē My thoughts are that all county officials should support any effort to insure that the publicís trust in our county government is protected - without exception.

Yelton: To my knowledge, the FBI has requested documents and records that are readily available to the public. Examination of public records by anyone, whether it is a governmental organization or just a citizen, should be welcomed. Porter County has a proud history of open and ethical government, and we should not rush to judgment until the review is completed. But, these types of inquiries do challenge the public perception of government. I applaud the Commissionersí decision to strengthen the public trust in County government by joining the Shared Ethics Commission, and will actively participate in the Commissionís training programs.

 

Posted 4/4/2014