County's financial woes deeper than budget shortfall

2013-10-27T15:00:00Z 2013-10-28T11:35:12Z County's financial woes deeper than budget shortfallBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
October 27, 2013 3:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | The Porter County Council approved a 2014 budget last week that exceeds incoming revenue, but the county's financial picture is even more bleak when considering the many financial challenges not even addressed.

The council failed to come up with long-term funding solutions for E-911 and the animal shelter, and the county faces many drainage and county building needs.

Also not addressed were requests to fund a county-generated plan to create jobs and a proposal to build an education and administration center at Sunset Hill Farm County Park in Liberty Township.

Council President Bob Poparad, D-at large, said he is waiting to see how much additional money can be generated if the group pursues the new revenue sources proposed by the county commissioners during last week's final budget hearing.

Those proposals include turning over a portion of the $159 million in county hospital sale proceeds to the Porter County Community Foundation for a guaranteed annual return of 5 percent. They also include using a smaller portion of those hospital funds to set up a bond bank to make loans to other government units.

The commissioners also announced they are working to replace the isolated ditch maintenance fee with a stormwater fee charged to everyone in the unincorporated areas of the county. The proceeds would be used to address drainage needs.

Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, is skeptical.

"You can't set an operations budget the size of this one on assumptions," he said, referring to the many unknowns with the proposals. "It's irresponsible."

Biggs and others have said that what's needed is to redirect all of the local income tax revenue to the general fund and into the hands of the County Council. Yet that move has been strongly opposed by County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who along with the other two commissioners, decides how most of the income tax revenue is spent.

Another proposal of redirecting income tax revenue for property tax relief to the general fund instead would require approval by state lawmakers, who are very unlikely to make that change, said state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso.

Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said the county is at a crossroads of deciding whether to take a do-nothing approach involving cost cutting or take a chance at investing for new revenue sources.

"People better start coming to the table," she said.

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