Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners hand animal control duties over to sheriff department

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The county sheriff’s department is going to the dogs, literally.

At the start of Tuesday’s Porter County Commissioners meeting, Commission President John Evans, R-North, announced his intention to give the oversight of animal control procedures involved with the county animal shelter to the county sheriff’s department.

“We’ve had some serious problems with our animal shelter dating back a number of years,” said Evans. The decision came after a series of conversations with employees at the shelter.

The sheriff’s department was considered, Evans said, because it has already been involved in a number of interventions and simply because it “made sense.” The department will now respond to calls regarding vicious animals or animal cruelty.

“Our goal will be to increase responsiveness and efficiency,” said Porter County Sheriff David Lain.

Evans also feels the move will allow the services to be available to municipalities, first by renewing contracts.

Along with the new oversight, Evans called for the formation of two new boards, an animal control board also headed up by the sheriff and a reinstated advisory board from the commissioner’s side. The advisory board, which has been dormant for more than four years, will serve as administration over staff and volunteers at the shelter.

The commissioners will still retain control over the animal shelter. Also staying in effect is the “no-kill” policy which was enacted a few years ago.

Lain said he hopes to retain the current two animal control officers. However, since this will be a new county department, the officers would need to reapply through the sheriff.

A vacant control officer spot will also be filled. Lain said those who are interested in applying should fill out an application on the county’s Web site, www.porterco.org and forms are also available at the county jail.

All three commissioners agreed to the motion, 3-0, although Commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South, said she was caught off guard not hearing any of the discussions but later told the Chesterton Tribune she agrees something should be done to address the problems.

The transition will take place on April 11.

Lain said the transition should be successful but admitted this is still a new item for him and asked for the public’s patience until the department can get up and running.

“This is kind of new territory but we are doing this with benefits in mind,” said Lain.

Jack Gray Resolution

The commissioners reached an agreement with the Ports of Indiana, a statewide port authority, regarding the use of a building that sits on 3.5 acres at the Burns Harbor port.

Executive Director for the Ports, Rich Cooper, said the company currently owns the building on state-owned land that currently has a tax lien attached to it from when it had been occupied by Jack Gray Transportation.

Jack Gray Transportation had appealed its tax assessment from sometime in the early 1990s which the Indiana Tax Court later determined invalid. The sum in back taxes has been estimated at $2 million, although recent discussions have pegged it at nearly half that amount.

The tax lien was enough to ward off other companies from renting the space when it became available to lease last August, Cooper said. He made the request the commissioners “remove the hanging clout” in order to drum up some business.

“We’d hope you help us free up this property to get other businesses to come and create some jobs in Northwest Indiana,” said Cooper.

All three commissioners approved a resolution that would allow occupants to use the building without assuming the taxes owed.

Evans said he hopes this would be a step in resolving the tax issue with Jack Gray which he said has been going on since 1992.

Cooper called the Port of Burns Harbor the state’s “flagship port,” saying it generates $3.4 billion in the economy per year while its other two ports located in Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon collectively generate nearly $2 billion.

Tax Bills Arriving in April

County Treasurer Mike Bucko mentioned to the commissioners that the abstract for the 2010 pay 2011 tax bills will be completed and sent off to the printers later this week, marking consecutive years of on-time tax bills.

Bucko said the bills will be mailed out during the first week of April, allowing taxpayers six weeks to determine how they will pay their spring installment by the May 10 deadline.

Evans thanked the efforts of the assessor, auditor and treasurer offices.

“Everyone stepped up to the plate,” replied Bucko.

Bucko mentioned to that taxpayers have the option to pay their bills online through the county’s Web site by e-check, saving on postage and paper. Receipts for online transactions will then be e-mailed.

In other business:

• The commissioners agreed to pursue a transportation enhancement grant for the nine-mile Calumet Trail that runs from Beverly Shores to LaPorte County line. If approved, the county would need approximately $200,000 for a 20 percent match for the grant. When it was undecided if appropriate funds would be available, County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-North, made the suggestion of approaching the county parks department to help chip in saying it had money available in its budget.

• The commissioners renewed the county employees’ healthcare policy with local provider Anton Insurance which is also including HealtheACCESS services in the plans. The well-received HealtheACCESS reported high participation numbers in employee wellness programs and are planning to add more with the parks department and Purdue Extension. The group has also been able to help identify early warning signs of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in employees.

 

Posted 3/23/2011