Hospital funds focus of GOP hopefuls
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent April 23, 2014 10:14PM
Russell âChetâ Barone
Updated: May 25, 2014 6:03AM
VALPARAISO — The two Republican candidates for the District 3 seat on the Porter County Council point to the $159 million in proceeds from the sale of the county hospital and better cooperation between elected officials as two of the issues facing the council.
Incumbent Karen Conover, 57, of Valparaiso, is seeking her second full term on the council representing District 3, after she was appointed to fill the term of Matt Murphy, who resigned. She also served two terms as an at-large councilwoman.
Russell “Chet” Barone, 46, of Valparaiso, is new to politics and said he’s just a concerned citizen whose opinion differs over some of the things going on in county government. “I never thought I would do this,” he said. “Everyone should have a voice.”
The county, Conover said, is going through some “major transitions and challenges” now with its budget, though those problems are not unique to what other municipalities are facing because of tax caps, which are limiting the tax revenue coming into the county.
The proceeds from the 2007 hospital sale — Community Health Systems purchased the hospital and built a new facility at Indiana 49 and U.S. 6, which opened in 2012 — put Porter County in a better position than other municipalities, Conover said.
“That is a huge tool, for the proper investment and for economic development,” she said, adding the county has been through difficult times before, including the bankruptcy of two steel mills. “We didn’t have those reserve funds like we do now.”
Investing the principal requires a unanimous vote of both the council and the Board of Commissioners; the two elected bodies are determining how best to do that. Options include investing part of the funds with an existing community foundation, or with one established by the county.
County officials have the discretion to tap into the interest from the hospital proceeds, which needs a simple majority vote of the council and commissioners.
While the county has reserve funds to use as needed, “we have to make major changes in how we’ve been operating,” Conover said. That, she added, will require everyone working together, something that happened when the mills went through bankruptcy but seems to be lacking now.
“We’re not going to get anything meaningful done unless people are willing to move forward,” she said.
As far as the hospital proceeds, Barone said he would like to see the county start its own community foundation for investment purposes, so county officials have complete control over what happens to the money.
“If that means a lower rate of return, so be it,” he said, adding he would like any interest to be used for creating jobs and tackling longstanding county projects, like a new animal shelter and the county’s drainage woes.
He also would like better cooperation between the council and commissioners.
“I understand you have to work together, and I think I can work with the commissioners,” he said.