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
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
Only residents living in those precincts may vote in the District 1 race.
The Chesterton Tribune invited both candidates to respond to a
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
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.