The last time Porter County government borrowed money, it was to build the Porter County Jail, which opened in 2002. That's now the only bond the county has left to pay off, in 2025.
Fifteen years later, the county commissioners are talking about issuing bonds again to address some of the delayed work facing the county. They plan to offer ideas to the County Council and see what the council members want to tackle first.
Among the projects being discussed now, for later in the year, are tearing down the old animal shelter and refurbishing the highway department facilities at that site.
The Expo Center needs to be refurbished, too, Commissioner Jeff Good said.
We're not talking big bonds — at least not yet — because the commissioners have been prioritizing projects to get some things done instead of sinking into the trap of trying to do everything at once.
It's a new way of doing business for county government. Good, whose hotel business has given him expertise in managing construction projects, knows how to get teams working together. The Board of Commissioners is now functioning as a team. Fellow commissioners Laura Blaney and Jim Biggs are cooperating with Good on fact-finding missions so no one feels left out, so everyone is prepared to address issues when they arise at commissioner meetings.
"The old days are over where one guy or two guys make a decision and it's done," Commissioner Jim Biggs said.
This team is focused on getting things done but in a thoughtful manner.
The Expo Center and Memorial Opera House both ended the year in the black, which makes the commissioners more confident in putting money into those buildings, Blaney said.
The north county government complex is a high priority for some Portage officials who want the county to help establish the city’s new downtown, bringing additional foot traffic to restaurants and retail outlets there.
But it's a lower priority for the county commissioners, who say there's enough acreage at the existing site on Willowcreek Road to accommodate a new building if that's ever needed.
They're more thoughtful about the big picture. Courthouses need additional security now, in this post-9/11 era, and that would have to be a factor in planning any new building.
For that matter, the courthouse in downtown Valparaiso has suffered from heavy foot traffic and delayed maintenance. Discussion of a new complex in the north would have to factor in consideration of how to distribute courts and other offices in the county.
Long-range planning would have to include consideration of whether another courtroom would be needed in another 10 to 15 years, Good said.
A project like this would run from $450 to $550 per square foot, Good said. That might be reasonable for downtown Chicago, but it's enough to make anyone in Porter County think twice about rushing to build it.
"It's on our radar, but it's not low-hanging fruit," Good said.
Very much on the radar now is transportation infrastructure. Expect to see a push to improve drainage, so roads will last longer, and to rebuild roads — especially since President Donald Trump has promised a major push in federal funding.
"You've got to learn to ride these waves when you see them," Good said.