MARC CHASE: Porter County library system is nobody's fool

2013-06-13T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Porter County library system is nobody's foolBy Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com

Imagine actually waiting to buy something until you've saved up enough cash in the old piggy bank to make the purchase outright. No credit cards, no loans, just good old-fashioned saving — and not buying until you can actually afford to pay for it.

It's a strategy that seems like a no-brainer. It's so obvious and sensible that it eludes many branches of our government, including many of the local cities, towns and county government bodies in Northwest Indiana.

So when a local government unit makes a concerted effort to buy with savings — rather than taxpayer credit — it's not just worth noting. It's worth celebrating.

Such is the case with the Porter County Public Library system, which has a much lower debt load than most of the other library districts in the region and remains reasonably low for the state as a whole. That's not by accident.

While the Porter County library system took on some debt in the '90s for some building construction and renovation, it has since then subscribed to the practice of setting money aside — a bit at a time — into a rainy day fund for purposes of future building.

Most government entities sell bonds (a fancy way of saying borrowing) for construction projects, racking up tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars of debt in the process.

But the Porter County Public Library system, to date, reports it has about $5 million in savings set aside for such projects. This is enough, Director James Cline says, to build a desired branch office in Porter Township with enough money left over to cover a large portion of yet another building elsewhere in the county.

This fiscally responsible approach shows in the numbers. State data shows the Porter County library system, with a total of five existing library branches, carries about $3.7 million in debt. This places Porter County about 28th on the state list of accumulated debt for library systems.

By comparison, the Lake County Public Library system, with its 10 branches, carries about $27.8 million in debt, enough to put it in the top 10 of library systems with the most debt. Crown Point's two-branch system also is in the top 10, with $16.2 million in debt, the state data shows.

Both the Lake County and Crown Point systems recently built new or drastically renovated existing facilities, borrowing millions to do it. Meanwhile, Cline's Porter County library system is content to live within its means and wait until it can pay for it.

Even with the $5 million in savings in hand, the Porter County system is waiting to build until funding sources are identified for operating the new branches.

Why?

"Because we don't want to look like fools," Cline told me.

How unique.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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