It’s the kind of
typographical error that’ll give a clerk-treasurer cold sweats: the simple
omission of a zero, such that a four-figure contract price--which as far as
the town council knows is the going rate for a particular service--is later
revealed to be a five-figure price, and 10 times more expensive.
So it was revealed
to the Chesterton Town Council at its meeting Monday night, when members
learned that a zero needs to be added to the $3,120 which they’d already
voted to pay Porter County Animal Control in 2015.
The true and
correct figure: $31,120.
Jeff Biggs, deputy
chief of the Porter County Sheriff’s Office, took ownership of that mistake
and apologized for it but, speaking from the floor at Monday’s meeting, told
the council that the PCSO needs to do a better job of recouping from the
towns and cities what he’s calculated to be their share of the cost of
maintaining both Animal Control and the Animal Shelter.
Biggs said, is based on the annual number of calls for service within the
town’s corporate limits: an average, over the last five years, of 7.8
percent of all Animal Control calls in the county.
Figure it costs
$200,000 per year to maintain Animal Control, with most of that sum going to
the three officers’ salaries and benefits, Biggs said. Figure it costs
another $200,000 per year to maintain the Animal Shelter. Chesterton’s 7.8
percent share of the whole: $31,200.
The kind of funny
thing about this is that members at first thought the town was getting a
deal. In 2012, Chesterton paid $6,076 for Animal Control services, almost
double the price of the typographically challenged contract which they
approved at their June 22 meeting.
The other funny
thing--kind of--is that Chesterton may have been the only municipality in
the county which paid anything at all for Animal Control over the last
couple of years, because--as Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney,
D-South, told the council on Monday--through some sort of bureaucratic
glitch no one can explain, only Chesterton was getting billed.
Member Sharon Darnell, D-4th, to ask Blaney whether she and Biggs plan to
hit up the other cities and towns for back payments.
“We thought about
it,” Blaney said. “Nobody really has it.”
“I feel like we’re
being punished for handing in our homework,” Darnell replied.
DeLaney, R-5th, had a different bone to pick. The majority of Animal Control
calls--about 64 percent--are in the unincorporated townships. Unless the
PCSO also plans to get the townships to pay more, “you’re asking the
municipalities to subsidize the unincorporated,” DeLaney said.
already pay the lion’s share of Animal Control, Biggs said in response:
“But they’re not
going to pay more now,” DeLaney pressed. “I’m talking about a fair playing
field for all involved.”
By way of an answer
Biggs offered this analogy: “It’s like you want us to police your town but
not pay for the service.”
Member Nick Walding,
R-3rd, for his part, suggested that Chesterton property owners are getting
double-taxed, inasmuch as some portion of both their county taxes and their
town taxes is going to Animal Control and the Animal Shelter.
Blaney suggested in
turn that the town is welcome to pay for its own animal control officer and
facility. “You don’t have to have our service,” she said.
offered, we’ll phase in the bump over three years, the same way we did
Valparaiso’s. “We want to work with you. We’re not trying to fund the whole
shelter. We’re just trying to fund a little bit of it.”
uncomfortable--concurred. “The Sheriff’s said it, ‘We don’t want to be money
In the end, members
voted 5-0 to go for the phase-in, with the understanding that the
Commissioners will submit a new contract--specifying the payment terms--for
review by Town Attorney Chuck Lukmann.