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Commissioners defend animal shelter in park plan; Expo chief Blaney resigns

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Tuesday’s relatively brief Porter County Board of Commissioners meeting to sign off on establishing new grant funds for physical enhancements to Sunset Hill Farm County Park triggered the board’s response to the Porter County Parks Foundation president’s objections to building the new animal shelter there.

Last week when it was announced that the Foundation had three months ago renewed a Conservation Reserve Program with the United States Department of Agriculture for ten years, Foundation president Dave Yeager said putting a shelter on the Foundation’s parcel along near U.S. 6 would “jeopardize” the organization’s non-profit status and chided the Commissioners for not doing their “due diligence” on the land before proposing to build the new shelter at that spot.

Yeager also said the traffic noises from U.S. 6 would agitate the dogs, which would disturb neighboring residents with barks and howls.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, on Tuesday rejected Yeager’s lack of diligence criticism saying the intent of his board was to follow “the chain of command,” by first going to the County Park Board with their plans to gain its support and then have them take the concept to the Foundation.

“We did not in any way try to supersede the Foundation,” said Evans.

Evans and fellow County Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, presented plans to the Park Board at their meeting two weeks ago where they said the conversation went “terrific” with one member, Craig Kenworthy, speaking in support of the proposal.

Blaney said the Commissioners went to the park board to see what interest the members had in the proposal. She said the Commissioners eyed Sunset Hill Park because it has high visibility and is centrally located based on county population.

Evans said he does not “believe it to be true whatsoever” that a shelter would invalidate the non-profits’ status since Foundation receives federal tax money through the CRP program. Participating in the program, the Foundation receives a little more than $3,000 a year by agreeing not to alter the land, such as farming, except for purposes of environmental protection.

Blaney questioned Yeager’s comment that the Foundation would have to pay money back to the USDA if it the land. She said it might not lose anything since the renewed term for the CRP does not start until October 1.

If any legal opinion is issued that turning over land for the Shelter would violate the non-profits’ status then the Commissioners will put the proposal aside, Blaney said.

Park Board attorney David Hollenbeck, who was in attendance for second reading on the ordinances to establish the parks grants, told the Commissioners that he would not be the counsel to give that opinion.

The Commissioners also said the prospective shelter would be built of “state of the art” materials so sounds would not permeate the walls of the facility.

Evans mentioned that an online petition through the Shelter’s Facebook page in support of the Shelter at Sunset Hill Farm has garnered more than 900 signatures since last week and claims an opposing petition has secured only two signatures.

“Clearly a majority of county residents do support the Shelter being there,” Evans said.

As issues and rumors have caused rifts among the public, Evans and Blaney said they hope Parks Foundation can hear the proposal based strictly on its merits.

Blaney said she spoke with Yeager and will be discussing the plan with Parks Foundation members during a meeting Thursday at 2 p.m. in the County Administration Building, which will be open to the public.

Ken Blaney exits Expo Center

Also on Tuesday, Evans announced that the Commissioners have accepted the resignation of current Expo Interim Director Ken Blaney and are currently taking applications for a successor.

Blaney took over operations after former manager Brian Schafer took another job in August 2012.

Evans lauded Blaney on many processes he implemented at the facility located at northeast corner of Ind. 49 and Division Rd. including reducing the annual budget by $80,000 eliminating duplicating items and inefficiencies, remodeled the kitchen to commercial grade making it more attractive to renters, increased bookings, set up new sale and profit software, cleaned up “clutter” in the ledger books, and introduced modern pay methods such as credit card processing.

“We want to extend our gratitude to Ken for all the work he has done,” Evans said. Current Expo employees will help operations during the transition period.

Commissioner Blaney, Ken’s wife, said her husband decided to step down as his private home improvement business is receiving more work. The Blaneys co-own One Guy with Tools.
Gary Airport Board appointment

In other business, the Commissioners announced the appointment of Dr. Tom Cavanaugh to the newly reformed Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority board.

Changes to the seven-member board were made by state lawmakers this past year as consulting costs approved by the outgoing board continued to increase and projects for expansion stalled. Legislation called for an entire overhaul of the board with Porter County keeping its one seat.

Cavanaugh is a retired Valparaiso orthodontist who has 53 years of experience as an airline and helicopter pilot and last year was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration.

He replaces former airport authority board member Nicole Thorne who had been appointed by the Commissioners in January.

Evans said Cavanaugh “will do an excellent job for Porter County” and expressed optimism that the airport will succeed in being an economic driver for the region.

Also, the Commissioners talked with Sheriff David Lain about funding the new medical contract for the rest of the year with money already in assorted sheriff’s budgets. Lain said he will ask the County Council for transfers to be approved.

 

 

Posted 9/18/2013