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Porter County braces for economic fallout from COVID-19
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Porter County braces for economic fallout from COVID-19

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Porter County Courthouse stock

The southern side of the Porter County Courthouse.

VALPARAISO — The Porter County Council put a hiring freeze and other austerity measures in place Tuesday night in preparation for a big financial whammy from the pandemic.

The council approved a joint resolution with the Board of Commissioners.

Effectively immediately, and through the end of the year, no county employees will be hired without the permission of the commissioners or council. The only exception is for 911 telecommunicators.

In addition, the county has banned overtime and comp time for county employees. Exceptions require prior approval by either the commissioners or council.

Additional appropriations are “greatly discouraged,” according to the resolution.

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Porter County Auditor Vicki Urbanik also was authorized to borrow between funds.

“We expect some cash flow issues in the near future,” council President Jeremy Rivas said.

The resolution sets out the background of the county’s actions taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the latest steps authorized by the joint resolution.

County officials expect to take a financial hit this year from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to require county officials to grant a two-month grace period on property taxes this spring.

In future years, loss of income for residents will translate into loss of income tax revenue for local and state government as well.

The actions taken Tuesday are “just kind of preparing our county going forward,” Rivas said.

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Employees tested

In a related announcement, county attorney Scott McClure said all county employees have now been tested for COVID-19.

Three or four employees out of 700 to 800 employees tested positive, McClure said.

The employees were tested over the previous seven days, at about 90 per day. The last group of workers was tested Tuesday.

The employees who tested positive were asymptomatic, McClure said. They have been asked to self-isolate.

“If you walked out and got infected right after taking the test, nothing would stop it,” McClure said, but the intent was to reassure employees returning to the workplace that all their co-workers had been tested.

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As staffs were cleared, they were brought back to the workplace.

The tests cost about $100 per worker, not counting the cost of the nurses who administered them, McClure said. He hopes the county will be able to recoup the cost from money provided by the federal CARES Act.

Council members Mike Jessen and Sylvia Graham complimented the Board of Commissioners and officeholders for their collaboration and cooperation.

“It’s been an unknown, unprecedented time,” Jessen said.

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