Lake County: Report shows county is fiscally responsible
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent December 10, 2012 4:36PM
Lake County commissioner Gerry Sheub talks to the press about a report written by former councilman Larry Blanchard during a conference on Monday at the Lake County Government Center, in Crown Point. The report analyzed Lake County spending in relation to other counties in Indiana. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 12, 2013 6:16AM
CROWN POINT — County officials say they are doing a good job providing services at a reasonable cost to taxpayers despite the perception by both taxpayers and state legislators their spending is a runaway train.
Cost to provide core government services to Lake County residents was the 15th lowest per capita of the 92 counties in the state in 2012, according to a report released Monday by county officials. That is a climb of 36 spots from 2007 when Lake County ranked 51st.
The report, compiled by county financial consultant Larry Blanchard at no cost to the county, breaks down the cost of providing the core essential services every county pays for out of its general fund by year from 2007 to 2012. Core services include budgets for each county’s elected officials such as the auditor, assessor, treasurer, sheriff, jail, coroner and surveyor, among other services.
“I think that says something. We reduced more than any county. That’s tremendous,” said Commissioner Gerry Scheub. Scheub said it was important for officials to have the study done because county officials are constantly being criticized for runaway spending.
Instead, what they have managed to do in the past five years without enacting the county option income tax and despite the resulting state-mandated property tax levy is cut costs more than any other county in the state without reducing key services.
The report does not cover motor vehicles, highway repairs, or the health and park departments, which have their own separate levy or funding source.
In 2007 Lake County was spending $259.38 per capita to provide core services. That figure dropped to $213.50 in 2012. Porter County saw its per capita costs climb from $182.49 in 2007, when it was ranked 8th in the state to $228.84 in 2012, the 25th lowest cost per capita in the state. LaPorte County also saw its costs climb. In 2007 LaPorte was ranked 73rd and spending $308.01 per capita. That rose to $359 per capita in 2012 pushing it down to 80th
Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, trimmed its costs during that time period. The county was ranked 38th in 2007, spending $240.57 per capita. Marion County is ranked 12th in 2012 and is now spending $208.33 per capita.
Marion County has the largest per capita budget in the state in 2012 at $189.9 million. Lake County is the second largest with a budget of $106.3 million. Porter County is ninth with a budget of $38.4 million.
Scheub said it is wrong for the state to penalize Lake County for not enacting an income tax by freezing its levy. It is also wrong that state officials continue to plunder local funds like the casino tax and motor vehicle highway tax to balance the state budget on the backs of local taxpayers.
Commissioner Roosevelt Allen Jr., D-Gary, said the fact that Lake is the only county in the state able to continue to provide services without enacting an option income tax like the 91 other counties speaks to how stream-lined Lake County government has become.
“Just by logic it indicates how efficient we are,” he said.
Retiring Commissioner Frances DuPey, D-Hammond, said state officials need to stop changing the rules and raiding local revenues from the casinos and highway tax. She said the county would not need to raise any taxes if it was allowed to use the dollars generated here. “We have resources here. Let us keep and use our resources,” she said.
The report, which was supported by both the commissioners and Lake County Council will be disseminated to outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, governor-elect and lieutenant governor-elect Mike Pence and Sue Ellsperman, respectively, and all members of the state House and Senate.
Scheub said it will be used to help make the county’s position that it has heeded the call and made cuts and is running efficiently as it lobbies to unfreeze the levy.
“We didn’t have proof of what we’ve done. Now we have proof of what we accomplished,” Scheub said.