VALPARAISO | A second state agency jumped into the local fray Thursday and decided the Porter County Council should be back in charge of reviewing and signing off on the budget of the Valparaiso Community School Corp.
The decision by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance comes a week after the Indiana State Board of Accounts issued a contrary opinion saying the Valparaiso City Council should approve the school budget.
The State Board of Accounts reversed its opinion in light of the stand taken by the DLGF, said state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso.
DLGF Commissioner Brian Bailey wrote that the City Council would review the budget if the school district was contained entirely within the boundaries of the city or if the city created the school district.
Neither of these conditions apply, he said. The school district extends into unincorporated Center Township and the school district was created in 1957 in a joint effort by the city and Center Township.
"Further, if the City Council performs the adoption, voters and taxpayers in Center Township outside the city will have no elected representative answerable to them who will be responsible for school budget and tax adoption," Bailey said.
He warns if Porter County fails to adopt the school budget by Nov. 1, the most recent annual appropriations and annual tax levy are continued for the ensuing budget year.
The entire issue surfaced earlier this year when the county learned that new state legislation requires it to approve proposed budgets of appointed school boards.
Porter County Council President Dan Whitten, for whom the DLGF letter is addressed, said Thursday he plans to contact the financial adviser hired by the County Council to help review the school budget and let them know the job is back on.
There is not enough time to conduct an audit, but Whitten said he wants to look closely at the proposed budget and make sure the school system has rectified the problems flagged during a recent state audit.
"We're back to reviewing this, and I'm going to take it very seriously," he said.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who sought the earlier opinion from the State Board of Accounts, said he and others were blindsided by the DLGF opinion.
He questioned why he was not given the opportunity for input and why the opinion was released just hours before the County Council was consider first reading of the school budget. He blamed election year politics for the situation.
Porter County Council Vice President Karen Conover, R-3rd, questioned who asked for the DLGF opinion at the eleventh hour before the first hearing on the school budget.
She said she still believes the City Council is the best group to carry out the job.