In 2012, Porter County government authorized a comprehensive study of our county finances. The report, which was submitted last December, warned that every major service delivered, as well as every major fund we currently manage, needs to be adjusted through acts of efficiency. Otherwise, county government’s only choice would be to, and I quote, “reduce public services, adopt new sources of revenue or both.”
This study, which was performed by a professional certified public accounting firm, also warned, “If action is not taken, the county will exhaust its remaining fund balances and will be unable to provide the level of public services expected.” We are already seeing signs of this, and that is an unmitigated fact.
Late last year, the County Council reduced its annual costs of operations by passing a 2013 budget which reduced county government spending by 5 percent. But for county government to effectively compensate for the lost revenue brought on by state tax caps, refunds on property tax appeals and the ever-increasing costs of employing the personnel required to effectively run our county government, it knows it must do much more.
More than 70 percent of county government’s entire annual operating expenses are directly attributed to personnel-related costs. This statistic is alarming, given the fact that county government does not employ a human resources department and never has. We have more than 600 full-time employees, and this figure will continue to rise as our county grows and our responsibilities grow with it.
County officials must rethink how it employs its growing work force if it wants to avoid a reduction of public services and or the adoption of new taxes as forewarned within this financial report. It might be difficult to admit for some, but the way we employ and compensate our employees is the single most significant factor contributing to our poor fiscal health.
We cannot spend or spin our way around this problem. It is real and does not have the ability to be truly fixed by simply ignoring it or denying it. Waiting for this to become an emergency is irresponsible at best. At worst it would mean a total breakdown of some services which, without question, define our quality of life here in our county.