Third times a charm.
The millions of dollars unspent in County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT)
projects that have been tabled two times previously were finally given
approval Tuesday by the Porter County Council in a close 4-3 vote.
The money has been at the forefront of some heated discussions between
council members and Count Commissioner President John Evans, R-North.
The debate was fueled by contrasting legal opinions by the county attorney —
who believes money given to CEDIT projects would not have to be reallocated
by the council since the monies had already been approved — and the Indiana
State Board of Accounts which told the county auditor that CEDIT project
monies should be given new approval to be transferred each year.
CEDIT tax money is spent by the county on items such as new infrastructure,
drainage and building projects.
County Auditor Robert Wichlinski notified the council, prior to the January
meeting, after learning the states guidelines for CEDIT funds and had the 20
or so projects put on the council agenda. The council delayed action until
its attorney Scott McClure could render an opinion.
Moments before the vote, McClure sided with the opinion of the state board
of accounts and said the CEDIT funds should be reviewed and appropriated
during the councils budget hearings which take place typically in the fall.
Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he would see that funds are
administered at budget time for the following year but that didnt answer the
question of what is to be done with the project funds presently before the
Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said giving the monies directly to the
commissioners would essentially be creating a slush fund. He said new
funding priorities have surfaced for the county since the inception of CEDIT
by a previous county commissioner board and asked for the commissioners to
submit more detailed information about their intentions for the funds.
"I think there needs to be specifics," Rivas said.
Evans said the life span on CEDIT projects has been shortened from four
years to two in order to bring more oversight and the council could "cleanse
them at the budget time." He emphasized the money has to be cumulative.
Evans stood by the view of the county attorney that CEDIT project money
should be handed over to the commissioners since the council had already
approved the projects and for him to change his mind, he would need to see
the board of accounts opinion in writing.
Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, who is challenging Evans in the May 8
primary for North County Commissioner, backed Rivas suggestion saying he
would like to see the commissioners draw up a plan for the funds in timeline
fashion. Evans said the task would be difficult to do since the
commissioners store funding up for whenever it is needed, such as when the
sheriffs police need to purchase a new patrol vehicle.
"You should roll the funds over so they are there when you need it," Evans
County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, added her perspective saying
CEDIT projects are not formally operated on a timeline and the commissioners
stop them when the work is finished.
"We use them, we close them," said Adams.
Biggs told Evans a vote in opposition to approving the funds would not be to
deny them but put a hold on them until the Council hears detailed plans for
the money. This would help eliminate the number of "projects that lay
dormant year after year," he said.
Rivas made a motion to appropriate only half the total funding figure but
withdrew that motion after some debate other whether the action was viable.
Others were tired of arguing and wanted to put the matter to rest with the
intention of formally addressing the matter in the next fall budget hearings
now that the council is aware of the states rules.
"Lets just pass it and get our jobs done and move forward," Conover said.
Those in favor included Whitten, Conover, Council member Laura Blaney, D-at
large, and Sylvia Graham D-at large. Those members against were Rivas, Biggs
and Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th.