VALPARAISO | A $1.5 million request for funding for a new park building was among the proposals tabled Tuesday by the Porter County Council after the group learned the county is already operating in the red with more than half of the year to go.
Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski said the shortfall is currently $14 million, but he explained that figure is largely clerical and will be much less once future factors are figured in, such as the recent collection of tax dollars.
The figure did serve to grab the attention of the County Council, particularly Jim Biggs, R-1st, who has been voicing concern about the impact of such big ticket items as round-the-clock medical service at the jail, the opening of the third pod at the jail and longterm funding for E-911.
He again called Tuesday for the Porter County Board of Commissioners to initiate a comprehensive operations plan to identify the county's capital needs, such as new buildings and renovations, for the next three to five years. The county can't continue making decisions on major projects without fulling understanding the ramifications, he has said.
"This is the time to be cautious," Biggs said.
Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at large, agreed on the need for more financial planning and said the county must become more conservative and prioritize its spending.
"We have to really be on top of our game," he said.
Council Vice President Karen Conover, R-3rd, defended the park request, saying the proposed building has been in the works for 15 years and would be a wise investment.
Conover also defended a tabled request for $39,000 to allow for the creation of a new position in the information technologies department, saying it is almost an emergency.
Director Sharon Lippens said the new employee is needed because her department has taken on responsibilities from several county departments that are either new or had been taking care of their own computer needs.
A third request for $171,000 for county employee bonuses based on years of experience was tabled because the casino proceeds used for that expenditure are less than in past years.
The Board of Commissioners have agreed to make local income tax proceeds available to cover the longevity pay, said Council President Bob Poparad, D-at large.
A hotly debated request that narrowly won approval Tuesday was for $225,250 to allow Wichlinski to continue a crackdown on homestead deduction violators, an effort that has already generated $1.6 million.
Part of the concern with the effort is its reliance on consultants.
Wichlinski has said that after concluding the crackdown on single-family home violators, he now hopes to pursue owners of multiunit residential buildings. He has identified 800 such properties in suspected violation.
The homestead deduction is limited to a taxpayer's primary residence.