Monday’s disputes over setting the 2013 Porter County budgets still had
County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, irked at Tuesday’s Board
of Commissioners meeting.
Pausing general business, Evans read a prepared statement denouncing Council
members Jim Biggs, R-1st, Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, Jim Polarek, R-4th, Sylvia
Graham, D-at large, -- a group Evans referred to as the No J’s and G -- who
approved a $37.9 million budget for the County’s General Fund budget.
Evans called Monday’s final Council budget meeting “a circus” and accused
the four along with County Auditor Bob Wichlinski of “hijacking the budget
process by passing a budget that raided (the County’s) General Fund
reserves, left out the highway department and left no capacity to address
the medical services and staffing challenges at the Porter County Jail.”
He likened the situation to a game of “Russian Roulette” and said “the gun
is squarely pointed at our County employees.”
Evans and the other Council members President Dan Whitten, D-at large, Karen
Conover, R-3rd, and Laura Blaney, D-at large, worked with a consultant on a
separate budget proposal which would commit $2.5 million in CEDIT per year
with a stipulation that $1.65 million in hospital interest money be given to
Porter Starke, Opportunity Enterprises, Family and Youth Service Bureau and
the Council on Aging. The proposal, Evans said, would have provided a
surplus of $4.2 million in the General Fund, a portion of which could have
been used for a $500 across-the-board raise for County employees.
“Auditor Wichlinski, and Council members Graham, Biggs, Polarek, and Rivas
have imprudently refused our offer to provide four years of CEDIT funds, the
longest term that is allowed by State Law,” Evans’ statement said.
Evans concluded saying the action has jeopardized funding for employee
health insurance and encouraged those affected to direct their opinions to
those council members. As a result of passing their budget, Evans said those
members “own the actions in draining the General Fund reserve” and among
other things coming up with a way to staff medical and security staff at the
jail without raising property taxes.
No J’s and G
The County budgets passed Monday either held bottom-line figures from 2011
or if the department heads had made reductions this year. However, the “No
J’s” stated their intentions that they will continue looking for solutions
they feel would be more responsible for the County. They agreed to some, but
not all, items in Evans’ proposal.
Rivas told the Tribune the Council will work with department heads to
look for every possible way to trim their budgets without cutting services.
He wishes to work with the Commissioners to incorporate more CEDIT revenues
to fund Enhanced 911 (which needs an extra $2 million per year starting in
2014), hire 24-hour medical staffing at the Jail and open the third pod,
which is estimated at $1.5 million.
Rivas said according to analyst’s projections the funding gap for 2014 will
come to a figure between $6 million and $7 million.
Biggs had stated that although he agrees the county should use more income
tax (CEDIT) and less property tax revenue in the General Fund but he did not
agree to Evans’ proposal since CEDIT is not permanent and the county is
taking in less property tax revenue than what it spends.
The biggest concern for the third No J had to do with the proposed annual
endowment of $1.65 million hospital interest money to human services groups.
Polarek said the fund as of now is gathering interest of only about $1
million per year and, if the money is needed for something else, there may
be no money left for those agencies.
“What do we do in eight years?” he said.
Polarek told the Tribune by phone Wednesday that the budget passed
gave the Commissioners $12.5 million which they could use to fully fund
employee insurance if they wish. Part of the reason he voted against the
Evans’ proposal was because the cuts it was proposing included a $250,000
reduction in the auditor’s budget for fuel and $66,000 in licensing fees to
mail property tax bills.
A budget of $37.9 million is something the County can afford for certain,
both Polarek and Graham said and added that the alternative plan’s final
figure was over $40 million. Revenues for the General Fund are yet to be
determined, but are projected at between $34.5 million and about $37
million. The plan proposed by those who voted for the budget is to make up
the difference using reserve money in the General Fund from when the County
had a surplus a few years ago.
Graham said it was generous for the commissioners to offer $2.5 million in
CEDIT, which would be a “big help” in addressing needs at the jail, but she
would like if the total $4 million in unallocated CEDIT funds could be
CEDIT is controlled by the Commissioners but it is the Council which decides
Evans lashed out at the group for having a $6,000 cut in its proposal for
the Veterans Service department. Graham said “it was a mistake that should
have never happened” and immediately voted to restore the funding on Monday
as did all Council members with the exception of President Dan Whitten, D-at
large, who walked out of the meeting offended by the cut.
The No J’s and G said they wish they could give raises for employees but
don’t feel it is feasible because of next year’s projected $6 million
funding gap, caused in part by the state’s tax caps.
“All of us feel our employees are valuable, but this is the reality,” Graham