Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Facing deficit County Council adding more meetings to work on budgets

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Council President Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said the board will get an early start on working out the 2014 budgets.

At its meeting Thursday, the Council scheduled a budget workshop session for Tuesday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m. to have all county department heads state their needs and their wants.

The Council will try to meet twice a month from now on, one meeting specifically for budgets as well as keeping on with their regular meetings every fourth Tuesday of the month.

ďWe are going to keep those lines of communication open. We have a lot of things we would like to get worked out,Ē Rivas said.

Rivas told the Tribune the county will see a shortfall of almost $10 million in its property tax levy due to caps. He said there ďwill have to be cuts madeĒ this year and the Council will have to decide what the Countyís priorities are.

Part of the discussions will be how to appropriate county economic development income tax money which the Council is currently discussing with the County Commissioners, who have the responsibility to develop plans to use CEDIT. Rivas said some of the CEDIT money that had been withheld in last fallís budget session could be restored at the Councilís meeting on Wednesday, March 20.

County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, has said numerous times since January that the Commissioners canít pay companies for services or make purchases until CEDIT has been approved by the Council.

In a related matter, the Council voted 6-0 to hire a full-time budget and financial specialist who will work in its office to keep Council. The annual salary was approved at $40,000. The specialist will assist the Council by examining line items in every County budget.

Five candidates were interviewed by the Council in executive session after the regular meeting Tuesday.

Absent from the meeting Tuesday was Council member Dan Whitten, D-At Large.

TQM fund accounting

As the meeting wound down, Council member Robert Poparad, D-At Large, made a motion to transfer the $1 million-plus funds in the County Auditorís non-reverting fund set up for use by the Total Quality Management team into unallocated funds.

Poparad said he had concerns after reading news articles of the auditor, County Treasurer, and County Assessorís discussions with the Portage Redevelopment Commission to lease space at the new University Center located on Central Avenue to start a two-year pilot program involving all three offices and the Portage Twp. assessor to offer joint services.

The lease is being negotiated for a little more than $7,000 per month and once the pilot program sunsets, the County will have to determine if it wants to continue the satellite site based on its performance. Poparad said that this would make the Council appear to be ďthe bad guyĒ if it had to shut the site down after two years because the County did not have the money.

County Auditor Robert Wichlinski said the pilot program hasnít been decided on yet because there is legislation moving through the Indiana Assembly that may rule on how the fund should be used. The fund was established by a Council vote in spring 2011 to streamline the property tax billing and collection process supported by funds from homestead credit violations.

The money amassed in the non-reverting fund has occasionally been a point of dispute over who should have oversight, which is why new language in the statute may call for more accountability for the fund. With the money in its unallocated funds, Poparad said the Council will know how that money is being spent.

Poparad said he doesnít think the intent of the legislation was to have the money expended as the auditor sees fit and said he would like the money go back to the municipalities.

Poparadís motion to transfer the money failed to capture a majority vote. Voting to transfer were Poparad, Council members Karen Conover, R-3rd, and Sylvia Graham, D-At Large. Against the motion were Council members Rivas, Jim Biggs, R-1st, and Jim Polarek, R-4th.

The Council agreed to table the discussion until its next meeting.

Wichlinski did agree to Poparadís request to provide him with all accounting activity in the fund. Since TQM was created, Wichlinski has provided the Council with monthly reports regarding the fund and said he has tried to be as transparent as possible.

Wichlinski said Poparad is the Council liaison for auditorís office and he can look at the accounts whenever he wants to.

Jail funds for Porter-Starke

Meanwhile, another split vote resulted in an appropriation of $68,000 for Porter-Starke Servicesí chemical and addition program at the jail as requested by Sheriff David Lain, 5-1.

This is the same fund Lain said has seen a dip in funding because the State Board of Accounts told the County it had to change the way it collects inmate booking fees. An inmate has to be convicted in order for the booking fee of $25 to be processed.

Lain and Council Attorney Scott McClure both said they were confident that the fund will catch and become self-sustaining but requires a buffer in the meantime.

The lone dissenting vote came from Polarek who said he didnít agree to giving Porter-Starke more money because the County already gives them an annual subsidy of $1 million.

Also, the Recorderís office was allowed, on a 6-0 vote, to restore their salaries to the approved 2012 level out of the Recorderís non-reverting self-perpetuation fund.

The council also approved new salaries at the County Expo Center, $37,000 for an event planner and $34,000 for its administrative assistant.

Expo Center Director Ken Blaney said the administrative assistant was originally shared between the Expo and the Memorial Opera House splitting the $34,000. Changes by the Commissioners last year allowed the Expo to have full use of the administrative assistant. The event planner was being paid close to $36,000 last year in hourly pay, he said.

 

 

Posted 2/28/2013