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Porter County and LaPorte residents have at least one thing in common that many communities don’t. They each have a big pot of cash thanks to the sale of publicly owned hospitals.

In both cases, the money is used for the public good.

While the specific uses and modes of delivery differ, both methods are paying off for the respective communities.

LaPorte

When LaPorte Hospital was sold, the money went straight to a foundation, the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte. The foundation is focused on improving the community’s health. That’s not the same as improving health care, although that’s important.

The foundation’s board set a goal of improving the county’s overall health ranking from one of the worst in Indiana to one of the top 10 by 2030. It’s an ambitious goal, but the foundation is focused on achieving it.

Recently, the board gave out its first round of grants, totaling $2.8 million. There are some big projects being funded with that money.

One is the creation of The Pax Center’s Brighton Street Green Space project. That involves demolishing most of the former Lenick’s Dairy building, located at the corner of Brighton and Pulaski, to develop a community garden space, an urban orchard with a u-pick section for LaPorte residents and an Education Resource Center. That will help make fresh produce more available in the neighborhood.

Another is developing pathways that should get people moving throughout the city more. Former Mayor Blair Milo deserves credit for her Fitness Fridays program that got people walking and running with her. Now the habit of walking, running and riding a bike needs to become second nature for residents.

It will improve their lung power, exercise their muscles and even reduce blood sugar, among other benefits.

There are many other programs that offer promise and have received grants from the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte, but one big grant stands out — and not just because it’s a whopping $633,000.

Swanson Center’s Detox Now program will pay for treatment for addictions to help patients who don’t have the insurance or other financial means to pay for this care.

By putting as many addicts as possible through detox, Swanson Center will, in effect, be working to detoxify all of LaPorte. The benefits of doing so make this an extremely important project.

Porter County

Porter County went a different route when is former hospital was sold. The $148 million went first to the county and then, to earn more interest on the invested proceeds, into a foundation, the board of which is comprised of the commissioners and Porter County Council members.

The interest on that money is being used thus far to address county government needs, including covering overtime for 911 dispatchers, buying police and fire radios to replace ones that will become obsolete next March, addressing long-delayed capital spending needs and other projects.

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The courthouse in downtown Valparaiso, for example, has leaky windows and water in the basement, possibly seeping through the limestone walls.

The north county government annex in Portage is being expanded, with enhanced post-9/11 security measures. The front of the Porter County Administration Building in downtown Valparaiso is being redone to make the building more accessible, and an addition is being built there to fill in the courtyard and add space to meet the county's needs. All of this is being done without a tax increase.

The commissioners and council, in particular, are focused on making county government more efficient to live within its means and not have to raise taxes to meet existing needs.

This isn’t about splurging with the windfall but about making government more efficient for the benefit of all taxpayers and residents.

After county government needs are met, the spigot might open for nonprofits, using an evaluation process not yet established, but county government needs come first. 

Setting up an evaluation process for considering grants takes time. It's what the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte did before starting to take grant applications, and the results show the foundation opened the door to creative approaches to improving the community's overall health. 

Two neighbors, two windfalls, two approaches to using that money wisely for the common good. And both approaches work well.

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.