At a much less rowdy meeting than last week’s final 2013 budget reading, the
Porter County Council approved all requests put before them at its regular
monthly meeting on Tuesday, including a $20,000 transfer to overtime for
workers in the Voters Registration office and grant funding for paving
sections of the Calumet trail, with nary a split vote.
Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, did use the time however to speak
out against last week’s announcement by County Treasurer Mike Bucko he was
considering the possibility of loaning $15.5 million in County funds to Lake
“I’m not in favor of that,” said Whitten. “It’s not our job to shore up
(Lake County’s) budget.”
Addressing numerous concerns expressed over the past week by the public,
Whitten clarified it is not the decision of the County Council how the
County should invest their money, that responsibility is entrusted solely to
the county treasurer, the chief investment officer. Whitten did however
voice his concern about Lake County’s ability to pay back the deficit bond
and said he wished he could have discussed the matter in more detail with
Bucko at the meeting which he was unable to attend.
Bucko last week said he has already loaned funds, or what is referred to as
“buying municipal debt,” to the City of Hammond and the Crown Point, Lake
Central and Hammond school districts with interest rates more than three
times higher than what banks offer.
Bucko said he will continue to discuss rates with Lake County to determine
if Porter County would profit from the loans, receiving a better return on
its investment. If not, he would drop the consideration, he said.
The Lake County Council voted 5-2 last week to sell $15.5 million in bonds
and for its board of commissioners to seek proposals from banks and Porter
Whitten said the fact that vote was split indicates there is some concern on
whether or not the county will have the means of paying back the bonds.
Other evidence Whitten gave was that the Cities of East Chicago and Gary
have been “woefully behind” in payments to the Northwest Indiana Regional
“That gives me a great deal of pause,” he said.
However, Lake County officials earlier this week said they are confident
Lake County can handle its debt, even though the Department of Local
Government Finance says the county has an outstanding debt obligation of
more than $100 million. The Lake County Council is expected to decide early
next month whether it will borrow from Porter County or from banks.
Bucko said in order for a unit to be loaned money, the state requires it
must first have the assets in place to guarantee the debt will be paid and
must not have defaulted on a loan in the last 20 years.
Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, shares in the skepticism and said
that although it could be an opportunity for Porter County to get a better
return, money should not be lent to a county that does not have the ability
to balance its budget.
Fellow Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, reiterated that both the County
Commissioners and the Council have agreed that the hospital sale principal,
which it has been speculated are the funds that would be lent out, should
Bucko told the Tribune this morning that no further discussions with
Lake County officials have been held since last week and no money has been
“I haven’t heard from any of the taxing units yet on all of this. I would
need to see the (interest) rates in reference to the bond before I do
anything,” he said. It may not be until next year that anything is decided,
he said, and he said he’d be willing to talk with Whitten or any other
The state now allows for counties to invest at most 25 percent of their
portfolio in terms of up to five years to collect more revenue.
Also on Wednesday, County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, said that
although the Treasurer is tasked with finding prudent ways to earn the most
on investments with safeguards in place, “perception is everything” and
since there is discomfort among county residents, buying Lake County’s debt
may not be the way to go.
Meanwhile at the Council meeting, Whitten encouraged positive discussion
between the Council and the Commissioners to figure out a long term funding
strategy using county income tax money, which is essential to shore up the
General Fund and projects such as opening up the Jail’s third pod.
“We’ve got to fund all these things. At the end of the day, we’re going to
get it done,” he said.