Porter County candidates toss around ideas in forum
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent October 23, 2012 10:34PM
Laura Shurr Blaney. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 25, 2012 11:40AM
VALPARAISO — Candidates for open Porter County government seats met in debate Tuesday night at the Memorial Opera House, with those running for county commissioner in the 1st District and those running for at-large County Council seats answering questions in the same rounds.
On many debate points, the candidates agreed on basic ideas, parting on the details of how to get things done, but the Regional Development Authority showed the greatest span between views.
John A. Evans (R), as the sole candidate for the County Commissioner 3rd District seat, didn’t participate in the debate, leaving Mike Heinold (R) and Laura Shurr Blaney (D) as the sole commissioner candidates.
Both candidates favored having a human relations department.
Heinold said he’s never seen an organization the county’s size without a human relations department, while Blaney said the department heads lack training when elected and need a central authority, although funding the department needs figuring out.
Blaney said she thinks interest rates will go up and the commissioners need to decide how much to allocate to different areas, such as social services and economic development.
Heinold said it should be used as an endowment for economic growth and development and not to fill General Fund gaps.
For lending Lake County money to make this year’s budgets, Blaney said she favored lending only for a capital project, not for budget shortfall, while Heinold said he was OK with making the interest money if the loans are guaranteed.
On money from the sale of Porter hospital, both agreed that the principal $160 million should not be touched, although Heinold said he would not promise to never touch it because he could not predict the future.
Both agreed that Porter County should work with Lake County on tourism, but neither wanted to merge county tourism departments.
Heinold said he supports the Regional Development Authority and compared it to a 401(k) plan, where you pay that first because it leverages matching funds, in this case from the state.
Blaney had left the debate early for a family matter and did not comment.
For the three open at-large seats, the debate had two incumbent council members Sylvia Graham (D) and Dan L. Whitten (D); a former council member, Bob Poparad (D); and two new to county government, Mark A. Hoffman (R) and Joe Wszolek (R).
Ralph Neff (R) could not make the debate because of a death in his family.
Whitten and Graham said they still have concerns that the Regional Development Authority will favor Lake County but Porter County should get what it can out of it.
Hoffman agreed that Porter needs to watch its interests but thinks the RDA is worth maintaining, and Wszolek said he’s a fan of it because the future needs cooperation across county lines.
Poparad said the counties needs to work together and stands by his support of the RDA when he was on the council.
For the hospital funds, all candidates agreed to leave the principal untouched, and Poparad suggested locking it up so only a referendum vote would allow it to be spent.
Wszolek said the county needs to look at safety and what to invest in.
Whitten said the county needs to establish criteria, an application process and a review process for the funds.
Graham favored using the interest only for one-time projects.
None of the council candidates liked the idea of lending money from the hospital funds to Lake County for their budget shortfall.
Whitten cited a history of bad payments, Poparad didn’t want to compete with banks and Wszolek said the county should loan first to Porter County municipalities and townships.
Only Poparad expressly disagreed with having a Porter County human relations person or department, favoring a consultant instead of a full-time position, while Whitten said he was reluctant to add another layer of government, even though employees have no one to turn to for problems. Department heads are autonomous and hire their own people, he said.