Porter County Commissioner John Evans' idea of putting some of the county's hospital money in an endowment is worth exploring, but not at the expense of the original agreement.
When the county sold Porter Hospital, the proceeds of the sale were protected from future political shenanigans by an agreement with two key provisions:
- Spending any of the interest on this substantial nest egg would require the majority of both the County Council and the Board of Commissioners.
- Spending any of the principal would require the unanimous consent of all council members and all commissioners.
These safety mechanisms were put in place for a reason. Someday, there will be a big need or a big opportunity. In the meantime, that money must not be frittered away.
It's a lot of money, too. There is $159 million in principal and $11.6 million in interest from the 2007 sale of the hospital sitting around to tempt politicians looking for cash in a crunch.
Evans has proposed putting a major chunk of that money into an endowment, perhaps created through the nonprofit Porter County Community Foundation, where additional investment options would mean bigger potential returns and, of course, bigger risks.
With a 5 percent return on the money, putting $100 million in an endowment would yield $5 million a year for the county.
What raised hackles, and deservedly so, was when Evans said that while he hopes the council will agree with him, the commissioners could potentially gain exclusive control over the money by adopting a new ordinance.
That must not happen.
Requiring the unanimous consent of the County Council and commissioners is an important safeguard that must not be tampered with.
Sure, it's more difficult to get unanimous approval, but that's the point.
If an endowment is to be created, require the unanimous approval of both the council and commissioner for any decisions on the endowment's creation and for the distribution of any proceeds from the endowment.
Don't attempt to do an end run around the council. Honor the original agreement.