Porter County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, has a brighter outlook about
the County’s financial health than a few members of the County Council.
That was apparent in a statement he read during Tuesday’s County
Commissioner meeting wherein he accused a “Chicken Little” group of
spreading “untruthful financial information” to make the public believe that
the County is facing crippling losses in its budgets.
While not naming any specific Council members, he said that the constant
negativity exhibited has prevented the County from moving forward with a
number of things such as the Raise the Barn activity and administration
center at Sunset Hill Farm.
Evans said the County has put away enough in its reserve funds to cover cash
flow and the prudence taken has made it “the envy of almost every other
“I believe it is necessary to assure the taxpayers that the sky is NOT
falling,” Evans said in his statement. “We do not have to borrow money. The
ability of County Government to manage through this time does not
demonstrate a problem with our finances. Instead, it demonstrates our strong
and solid financial position.”
Evans contended that the “Chicken Little” group has made incorrect
assumptions in recent news headlines, including one that claimed the County
would lose $1.6 million in county economic income tax funds with the advent
of a new income tax for Lake County when it turned out the CEDIT fund
available to the Council and Commissioners would be reduced by only about
$250,000, according the Indiana Department of Revenue.
Other instances of what Evans calls misinformation was a shortfall existing
in the General Fund of $14 million. What is happening, Evans said, is that
this time of year the County, as does every county in the state, awaits the
distribution of the May property tax payments to replenish the fund.
“The County does not have a $14 million budget shortfall. We have a property
tax cash flow challenge,” Evans said.
Evans also criticized the group for repeatedly crying out for a strategic
funding plan for capital needs when, he says, a plan was already made up
last year by Umbaugh & Associates. The Council members, he said, did not
accept Umbaugh’s figures when they didn’t meet their expectations.
In response, two of the Council’s biggest advocates for planning, Council
members Jim Biggs, R-1st, and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, told the Tribune
that the information Umbaugh gave was a first step, a status report of the
“The Umbaugh report on budgets was just the numbers. It was not the
operations plan that we still need,” said Rivas. He said he would like for
the Council and/or the Commissioners to meet with all department heads to
put together a comprehensive spending plan.
Evans mentioned in his statement that Umbaugh had completed a facilities
plan and rhetorically asked how many times the same plan must be prepared.
In spite of Evans’ reassurances that Porter County government is in good
shape money-wise, Biggs and Rivas said they are unsure if the Council will
even have the ability to balance the 2014 County budget due to the impact of
the tax caps and, among other things, pending property tax refunds. Rivas
said he will continue to exercise fiscal conservatism to avoid having to
raise the County income tax.
“My constituents want small government. They want to keep the services they
have without having to pay more,” Rivas said. “We can’t just be going by
what’s the status quo. We’re governing in different times so we need to
Biggs said he doesn’t understand Evans’ “kill the messenger” approach or the
name-calling as it pushes away from the goal of working on solutions
Biggs said he does not agree that the County should rely on reserve funds,
including the hospital sale money, because those funds will never come back
once they are used up. He said that better planning and efficiency is how to
“There are problems but ignoring them is not helpful. They are not going to
go away,” Biggs said.
Council President Bob Poparad, D-At Large, said he does not deny that
challenges exist but believes they can be addressed and dealt with during
the Council’s budget hearings which will start in September.
“We are cognizant of our finances,” he said. “It is what it is. We can’t
change the numbers.”
Poparad said County officials will know more about where they stands when
they receive the distribution numbers from the spring tax draws, which are
currently being calculated by the county auditor’s office.
Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, believes the Council has been
“very diligent” in addressing its struggles. “I am happy that we have been
able to do that,” she said.
The budget this year is going to be more challenging, Graham said, with the
new medical staff at the County Jail and the new state mandate to raise the
salaries of officers working in the County’s probation department. But she
remains optimistic as she feels the County is moving ahead with many
projects and hopes there is a chance to give pay raises to County employees
“All problems can be solved with planning,” Graham said. “We will be certain
to meet the challenges as they come forward, and we are looking beyond this
Evans said he wishes the Council members to join with the Commissioners in
“aggressively implementing” the recommendations of the County Jobs Cabinet
to expand the tax base and increase annual revenues.
“Porter County is poised for a boom in economic development and job
creation,” he said. “We face a very bright future.”