It may have been because only five of seven Porter County Council members
were present Tuesday, but the 3-2 vote in favor was not enough to approve
the County Parks Department request for $1.5 million for the design and
construction of the Raise the Barn project, an education and administration
center at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.
But it may succeed next month as County Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd,
told the Chesterton Tribune this morning she is willing to vote yes
on the project.
“It has been in the works for 13 years and it is something that needs to get
done,” Conover said.
She and Council member Dan Whitten, D-At Large, were not able to attend the
The request from Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos came up one vote short
after Council members Jim Biggs, R-1st, and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said they
would not say yes until the ongoing issues about hiring additional medical
personnel at the County Jail get resolved. Both said they are in support of
the project, however.
“It shouldn’t be seen as a ‘no.’ It should be seen as ‘not yet,’” Biggs said
A few minutes before, the Council heard Sheriff David Lain’s pleas for
moving forward with placing more nurses at the jail to mitigate the huge
liability issues the jail currently faces (see related story).
Seeing $1.5 million as a big investment, and also the largest outlay of
hospital sale interest money yet, Council members grilled Lenckos about what
his plans are for picking up the rest of the $2-3 million tab the
construction would require and how ongoing costs would be met.
Lenckos said once the Commissioners and Council put their support behind the
$1.5 million request, the parks will have a more concrete goal they can aim
for in raising funds from private groups. The Parks Foundation has committed
$200,000 to the project and there is close to $200,000 in the parks’ share
of County Economic Development Income Tax funds remaining for Raise the Barn
after the department purchases land for a county park in Morgan Twp., he
As for the maintenance and upkeep of the barn, Lenckos said that will be
funded with the revenues collected from the programs that Raise the Barn
will host and he is “absolutely confident” there is enough demand to sustain
it. He said the department has doubled its program attendance since 2010 and
continues to grow.
A survey of the county showed residents rate parks and trails the same as
public safety in terms of importance, he said.
“If the demand wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here before you with this
request,” Lenckos told the Council.
Council President Robert Poparad, D-At Large, asked what would happen if the
parks department fell short in reaching its fundraising goal. Lenckos said
plans would be reshaped to fit whatever amount he can secure.
Once the final design is completed, Lenckos estimated that construction
would take “eight months” or so. He would like to see the center finished
next year sometime as that would coincide with the celebration of Sunset
Hill Farm’s 80th anniversary.
Before voting no, Rivas said the County needs a comprehensive finance plan
of priorities so it can avoid adding on a new income tax.
“We need to make sure we would not go back to the taxpayers. They are taxed
enough as it is,” Rivas said.
He and Biggs voted to deny while Poparad and two other Council members
Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, and Jim Polarek, R-4th, voted in favor of the
Rivas told Lenckos to try the request again at the Council’s May meeting
after the jail funding dispute may be worked out. Lenckos said he would be
The Council did however vote 5-0 to dip into the hospital sale interest fund
to put $197,104 toward a grant match to purchase radio equipment for a
number of fire departments in the county.
To allocate hospital sale interest money, majority votes must come from both
the Council and the Commissioners. The Commission-ers last week signed off
on the measure by a 2-0 vote.
County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, told the Chesterton Tribune
this morning the amount for the barn is a one-time expense and it should not
be tied up with the matter involving the jail.
In a separate Parks matter, with a retirement and three departures this
year, the Council members present approved a transfer of $8,000 from hourly
to salaries to increase Lenckos’ Communication Director and Program Director
salaries from $29,000 to $33,000 per year. He said he had lost employees
this year because the original salary amounts were not enough for a
A transfer in salaries totaling $1,400 to a deputy clerk IV-D court as
requested by County Clerk Karen Martin was granted while a deputy accountant
salary was lowered by $3,650.
The Council split 3-2 in a failed motion to hire another Server
Administrator in the ITS Department. Director Sharon Lippens said she is
requesting a new employee be put in her office because it has not been able
to keep up with requests for service as technology is being used more by all
The salary would be set at $52,000 annually and $39,000 would be paid out to
cover the rest of this year. Part of the salary would be reimbursed by the
Court IV-D funds that come from the state.
Council members typically frown on raise requests but the growth of
technology was big enough in Biggs’ eyes that “adverse effects” would take
place if the board doesn’t act on it.
“If we don’t invest in (technology), we are literally going to break down,”
Rivas said he felt greater concern for the future funding of basic services
such as enhanced 911. Graham said approving a new position would yield more
requests like it.
Both Rivas and Graham voted no to ITS’ request while Biggs, Poparad and
Polarek voted yes.
Auditor discussion withdrawn
Meanwhile, one of the more recent hotly debated issues will be taken up at
the Council’s May meeting.
County Auditor Robert Wichlinski withdrew his request for an additional
appropriation for $225,250 to contractual services Tuesday and moved it to
next month’s agenda. The contracts included in the request will help fund
accounting support and homestead credit fraud services, among other things.
Contracts such as these had been paid out of the Auditor’s non-reverting
fund ,which the Council minimized the allocation for to $0, at a special
meeting two weeks ago.
County Treasurer Mike Bucko pushed a request Tuesday for the Council to
approve an additional $25,000 in his budget to pay for upgrades to the
County’s tax site and improve customer service in his office.
The $25,000 is an additional because it has been paid not from the
Treasurer’s budget but from the Auditor’s non-reverting fund.
Council members voted to deny Bucko’s request after he said it was okay that
it would be considered as part of the Wichlinski’s requests next month.