VALPARAISO — County officials spent several years resisting pressure to spend the $148 million in proceeds from the 2007 sale of the county hospital.
The determination paid off early last year when the county broke new ground in Indiana by taking advantage of a new opportunity to set up a foundation to protect the investment and give local leaders a more lucrative choice of investment options.
The Porter County Council and Board of Commissioners are now giving as much care to deciding how the interest money from their investment will be spent, and it appears the group will take care of in-house needs before making more of the money available to outside groups.
"This is a longtime deal," Porter County Commissioner President Jeff Good, R-Center, said, hoping to put the issue in perspective.
The foundation assures the money will remain safe long into the future, he said, which will allow time for county government to address its many overdue needs before taking requests from the outside entities.
"We have a lot of needs out there," Good said.
County government is already funding a few local nonprofits from the hospital proceeds, including Opportunity Enterprises, Family & Youth Services Bureau and Porter County Council on Aging, according to Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South.
The foundation is set up so that the first 5 percent of the interest earned will be used by the county, with any balance being reinvested, Porter County Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at-large, said at the group's meeting last week.
The investment earned a strong 2.9 percent return for its second fiscal quarter, bringing the total for the first two quarters to 4.4 percent, Amanda Black, director of client strategy at Capital Cities, told the council and commissioner members last month.
Porter County Council President Mike Jessen, R-4th, said he would like to see the priority placed on addressing the shortcomings in county government's general fund. These operational-type costs include a bill of more than $1 million for the Sheriff Department's pension fund.
He, however, does not want to see the foundation proceeds used for operational costs over the long run.
The second tier of in-house costs to be considered are capital projects, such as the various building needs, Jessen said.
"There are plenty of needs that need to be addressed," he said.
Only after all these in-house needs are taken care of should the county make the funding available to various community groups, Jessen said.
"There's a phenomenal number of wants throughout the county," he said.
Blaney said she agrees with the approach of taking care of the needs of county government before making the money available to additional community groups and/or cities and towns.
Good said county government has already used the hospital proceeds to help area cities and towns.
Former Porter County Treasurer Mike Bucko announced nearly four years ago he was using hospital sale proceeds to make low-interest loans to various municipalities around the Region. The move allowed the county to earn more interest on the money than was available through other investment options at the time, while saving the municipalities money over other loan options.
Good said a few of those loans are still active.
"The cities and towns have already benefited," he said.
County officials have been discussing the best ideas for the money since the funds became available with the opening of the new Porter Regional Hospital in August 2012. The county had been limited to investing in money markets, bonds and loans to other government entities.
The county gained access to potentially more lucrative investment options when a new state law paved the way for the creation of the foundation last year. The arrangement also protects the principal by requiring unanimous approval from the council and commissioners to make any changes.
The commissioners and council held back $10 million of the hospital sale money from being invested in the foundation to help fund the new animal shelter and for potential uses in buildings and for the new south county park.