The new year got off to a harsh start for the Porter County Council when it
was determined that the revenue coming from the state would be less than
what was expected.
The Council found its budgets already running in the red, reportedly by $2.8
million, according to an auditor with the Indiana Department of Local
Government Finance. The DLGF recently released the 1782 budget notice to the
County showing the deficit, which the Council members discussed during the
reorganizational meeting Tuesday said would need to be paid for out of
temporary reserve funds.
Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said the County will not be able to live on
reserve funds for very long and the Council has “come to a fork in the road”
with what it should do regarding personnel and get more involved in budgets
than ever before.
The Council ultimately voted 7-0 to instate a “hiring freeze” where County
department heads will be allowed 30 days to fill any vacant position it has
funds appropriated for and no new positions are to be created. The only way
someone can be hired is if a position becomes open due to a retirement, a
resignation or a firing.
For any vacancies not filled, the appropriations for the salaries will be
returned to the General Fund.
Council President Dan Whitten, D-At Large, told his colleagues that the one
focus this year will be funding county government and that means tightening
belts to the maximum.
“We are clearly facing a crisis. If everyone’s number one priority isn’t
funding government, we are remiss in our duties,” he said
Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, who originally suggested the
hiring freeze in November, asked how the Council would go about “policing”
County Auditor Bob Wichlinski said that departments are to report any
personnel changes on a monthly basis and he can relay that information to
the Council’s budget and financial specialist Vicki Urbanik.
Council member Bob Poparad, D-At Large, asked his peers if they would have
the “political wherewithal” to say no to requests for new positions. He said
when businesses in the private sector have hiring freezes, they mean no new
hires, but there have been many instances when Council members have said yes
to new positions, especially when department heads make the requests and say
the hire is essential.
Biggs said he has said no to requests earning him a reputation as a “no-jay”
on the council.
Rivas suggested that new position requests should not even be heard. Council
attorney Scott McClure said it is already the Council’s role to hear any new
appropriation by departments.
“Any new position has to come here anyway,” McClure said.
Council Vice-president Karen Conover, R-3rd, said that just because
departments have extra money to use doesn’t mean they are obligated to use
it and discouraged them from spending down those amounts.
The Council unanimously agreed to the hiring freeze and will send out memos
informing department heads that no new positions will be created.
“We all need to agree on the fact it’s going to be a rough year. We are
going to have to be attuned to financial matters,” Whitten said.
Hospital sale investing
Meanwhile, the Council is expected to receive a financial report on Friday
on what options they have for using or investing the roughly $160 million
principal from the sale of the county hospital. That could shore up the
revenue the County needs to fund services, while maintaining a balanced
Whitten said he will invite the County Board of Commissioners to the
Council’s meeting on Jan. 28 to discuss the report.
Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, also asked if the Council will continue
its ongoing discussion regarding the 10-year abatement with Porter Regional
Hospital and when the abatement period is to begin. The matter will also be
on the agenda for the Jan. 28 meeting and hospital officials will be invited
In more budget matters, Urbanik told the Tribune after the meeting
her figures would indicate the numbers reported in the state’s budget notice
differ from what she has and she estimates the deficit to be in the realm of
$1.3 to $1.5 million, but the County would still need to come up with the
funds to satisfy the reported $2.8 million deficit.
She is preparing a report for the Council members on the budget. Some
reasons for the insufficient revenues may have to do with an increase in
unappropriated expenditures and, among other things, several large
But the one fact the Council should pay attention to is the effect of the
property tax caps which increase the deficit more each year, Urbanik said.
Urbanik also mentioned that from her research she learned that the County
departments ended up not spending down $1.9 million last year, indicating
there are places in the budget that could be trimmed.