EDITORIAL: Porter County officials, start talking

2013-09-03T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Porter County officials, start talking nwitimes.com
September 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Porter County Council agreed last week to spend $1.1 million in interest from the county's nest egg to fund equipment and software upgrades for the E-911 system. That's understandable.

Tapping the interest on the proceeds from the 2007 sale of Porter Hospital makes sense for a one-time purchase that would improve public safety.

This purchase might, and should, improve more than public safety, however. It might finally get the county commissioners and County Council to finally start working with each other on fiscal issues facing the county.

The council and commissioners plan to hold a joint meeting to come up with a long-term funding plan.

"We should be talking about this in its entirety," Councilman Dan Whitten said. Absolutely!

Porter County needs a strategic plan not just for issues like land use but also for its finances.

That's true for routine matters like funding jail operations, restaurant inspections, paving and other everyday services, but it's also true for capital projects and other big investments.

The council and commissioners have agreed to tap the hospital interest money for E-911 equipment, using the rationale that doing so could reduce homeowners' insurance premiums. Fine.

But look at the size of this nest egg — $159 million in principal and $11.6 million and counting in interest.

The council and commissioners agreed when the hospital was sold that spending any of the interest would require majority approval and tapping the principal would require the unanimous consent of the council and commissioners.

But where's the strategic plan for how to use that money to the county's advantage? What are the criteria for projects that might justify spending some of the principal?

And how much should always kept in reserve, no matter what? This nest egg must be nurtured, not squandered. 

It has been six years since the hospital was sold, and still there is no long-range strategic plan for Porter County's finances. What's taking so long?

Let this serve as a reminder of the need to discuss publicly what types of projects might be worth tapping the principal, and whether a new process is needed for considering those ideas.

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