A budget that doesn't balance and the fate of the $160 million from the sale of Porter hospital are some of the major issues facing the winner of Tuesday's Republican primary battle between incumbent District 3 Porter County Councilwoman Karen Conover and Russell Barone.
Conover, 57, is seeking her second full term as District 3 councilman since being appointed to fill the remaining two years of Matt Murphy's term after he was appointed Valparaiso economic development director. Conover also served two terms in the 1990s. She works as Valparaiso chief deputy clerk-treasurer and is married to Center Township Trustee Chuck Conover. The couple has two children.
Barone, 46, is seeking his first elected office. He is a sales manager for BNP, which deals in industrial and data center equipment. He and his wife Ann have two children. Barone said he decided to run because he wants to make a difference.
"I think it's financial insanity, in terms of the budget, and there's no reason for it," Barone said. "With long-term planning and financial planning, we can do it. I would like to see some sort of financial reporting mechanism. If you are running a business, financial analysis is the key. That's one of the first things we need to implement."
Conover called the budget difficulties "a perfect storm" created by the impact of the tax caps, a large amount of tax refunds resulting from appeals and the state cutting another $2.8 million from the budget because the paperwork asking for an excess levy in 2012 and 2013 was not filed on time.
"Although some cry that the sky is falling, we have reserve funds," she said. "The difference between our situation now and when the steel companies went bankrupt several years ago is that all the department heads and elected officials worked together then. I'm not finding that same spirit of cooperation now."
She said she favors eliminating the antiquated ditch tax, which is paid only by a few, and replacing it with a stormwater fee for everyone living in the unincorporated areas of the county to provide funds needed for the $40 million in drainage projects identified. She said "everybody is on board" with hiring an HR person, but the county commissioners won't release the study on that issue.
Conover said the hospital money should be secured in a foundation, either an existing one or one set up by the county, and some of the money loaned to communities with redevelopment commissions, which she said are driving economic development. That also could free up money now tied up in tax increment financing districts for use by the county and other taxing bodies.
The county needs to continue funding the fight against drug abuse and needs to secure a location for the animal shelter. Barone said he doesn't understand why the county doesn't already have a site for the animal shelter when the money is available. He said the county has paid consultants for reports on lots of things, like drainage and the shelter, but nothing ever gets done.
"It's like the HR director," he said. "Hire one. I'm running because my opponent hasn't seemed to address serious problems. She voted for the unfunded budget. We've got to get beyond the disagreements. One of the things we need to look at is the employee benefit package. I don't know anyone who self-insures any more."
Barone said the council needs to meet more than once a month to deal with the problems. He said a leadership change is needed, and he wants to find out "who is going to work and really dive into this stuff." He said there could be solutions that don't involve cutting personnel, but, if personnel cuts are needed, it's because of the council's inaction.
"If these people didn't see this perfect storm coming with the tax laws, they shouldn't be in control."
Barone is against giving the hospital money to the Porter County Community Foundation, favoring instead setting up a new foundation. He added that anyone who voted to give the hospital tax breaks should be voted out. He also favors term limits and vowed to do what the people want him to do.
Conover said the number of holidays given county employees should be looked at. She added, "I'm a communicator and a cooperative person. I understand county finances and budgets. We're facing some challenging times, and I will try to work with everyone."