For decades, Portage officials have expressed a desire for more accessible county services. Now Porter County has a chance to see whether offering those services is a smart investment.
Portage Mayor James Snyder wants to use the existing University Center building in downtown Portage to house some county services on a two-year test basis.
The story begins at the existing north Porter County annex on Willowcreek Road. Expanding court services there means the Portage Township assessor will need to find office space elsewhere.
That opens other opportunities, as well, like relocating the county health department satellite.
"My wife's had inmates whistling at her while she's taking our kids down there to get their shots," Snyder said. That's shameful. No one should have to go through that.
County Commissioner John Evans proposed solving the space crunch at the government annex by spending $500,000 to expand the sheriff department's substation in South Haven.
When Snyder saw that story, he said, he called Evans to offer the existing University Center at a much lower cost -- a little under $8,000 a month for two years. The money would come from the county auditor's office. The auditor, treasurer and recorder would use shared, cross-trained employees at the site.
"I want that building to be all university space. That's the goal," Snyder said.
But with the space vacant for now, it makes sense to use that building for a pilot project to see whether making key county services more accessible to north Porter County residents will draw enough foot traffic to justify having those services in Portage.
This is more expensive than doing nothing, but cheaper than expanding the sheriff's substation. A key selling point is that no additional workers would be hired; existing workers would be transferred. It's a good test of the county's total quality management program.
Opening a branch office in Portage, whether for the Porter County auditor's office or someone else, makes sense as long as additional employees aren't hired. It draws traffic to the Portage building, which isn't bad, but also makes county services more accessible to the public.
The County Council and county commissioners should approve this plan.