Chesterton Tribune

 
 

County Council battle with auditor heating up

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Council will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, April 10, to reaffirm the holds they put on the County Auditor’s non-reverting fund.

At its March 11 meeting, the Council split 5-2 to transfer $606,710 in the fund to an unallocated fund which Auditor Robert Wichlinski said does not exist.

The squelch on the fund happened as the majority of Council members argued they wished to hear from the auditor how he would spend the money, for the sake of accountability. Council President Robert Poparad, D-At Large, had told Wichlinski that he could reacquire the money by asking the Council for it.

Voting to transfer the funds to unallocated on March 11 were Poparad, and members Dan Whitten, D-At Large, Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, Karen Conover, R-3rd, and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd. Members voting against the measure were Jim Biggs, R-1st, and Jim Polarek, R-4th.

“I don’t think the auditor can spend that money. We, as the county’s fiscal body, made a vote,” said Whitten.

The non-reverting fund was set up to help fund a total quality management program that was coordinated with the assessor, treasurer, and recorder’s offices to expedite tax collection processes and recoup homestead credit violations.

At the end of the Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Poparad asked Wichlinski’s chief of staff Alizabeth Bailey about reports that the auditor’s office spent $57,000 since the March 11 vote.

Bailey said that the money was used to pay outstanding bills related to the funds. She said the office was “not going against (the Council’s) request” because the transfer of funds was “not done properly.”

Wichlinski was present at the start of the meeting Tuesday but had to leave early.

Wichlinski said after the meeting on March 11 that there was no such thing as an unallocated, non-reverting fund according to the state statute and that he would check with the Department of Local Government Finance and the State Board of Accounts to see if the Council’s action was feasible.

Wichlinski said the proper thing for the Council to do would be to reduce the allocation of money to $0, which would need to be properly advertised, rather than transfer the money to a non-existing unallocated fund.

Since then, the auditor’s attorney met with the Council’s attorney Scott McClure over the issue.

McClure said that in his opinion the Council’s vote holds up because there is nothing in the state’s statute about de-approving the money. When there is nothing in statute to guide the County, the County can decide it has the ability to use home rule, he said.

As of now, McClure said he has not received notification from the DLGF or the SBA that the action was improper.

“I didn’t see any letter (from the state) saying we were doing anything illegally,” he said.

Poparad and Whitten said they were annoyed by the fact the auditor was not present for the entire meeting.

Poparad said he did not receive the records of how the fund has been handled over the past two years that he asked Wichlinski to provide. Polarek said he received the information two weeks ago.

Whitten then asked Poparad to schedule a meeting which will advertise the reduction of the allocation of the auditor’s non-reverting fund to $0.

“Let’s do it again because we have a difference in legal opinion,” Whitten said.

 

 

Posted 3/27/2013