Chesterton Tribune



Council and Auditor trade barbs over unpaid insurance

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Before the Porter County Council adjourned its meeting Tuesday, Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd, alerted her peers of a memo issued that day informing the County was behind in six “runs,” or weeks, of payments of health insurance claims.

The County Auditor is responsible for paying the claims, Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said. The matter should be looked into as late payments put the County at risk of losing the discounted rates it receives from providers, he said.

County Auditor Robert Wichlinski said he did not see the memo until late Tuesday because he had been helping show livestock at the fair earlier in the day and promised he will “take care of it immediately.”

Wichlinski, after the meeting, told the Chesterton Tribune the memo should have come as “no surprise” to Council members because they left insurance underfunded when they approved the 2014 budgets. The Council, not the auditor, is the body which decides where to appropriate funds for the insurance and it was just a matter of time before the funds would run dry, he said.

As of Wednesday morning, the insurance fund had a balance of $50,400. Monthly costs over the year have fluctuated between $537,000 and $1.3 million.

“They knew this was coming,” Wichlinski said.

The Council’s budget and financial specialist Vicki Urbanik advised the Council there is $1.3 million of appropriated moneys in various budgets that have not been spent which could be used to pay the claims. But that amount cannot be used all at once, it will have to be done in portions, she said. What the auditor should do, Urbanik said, is go to the Council and Commissioners for approval to pull from those funds to balance the insurance fund.

Urbanik, a Democrat, is running against Wichlinski in his bid for re-election this November.

The Council cannot force the auditor to pay the claims but it is its best hope that the payments are made on time, Whitten said.

During last fall’s budget hearings, the Council approved the health insurance budget at a $2.5 million deficit. Further cuts by the state to the general fund of $2.8 million increased the shortage to more than $5 million for 2014.



Posted 7/24/2014