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Joint county budget session: Challenges abound

Updated: October 17, 2013 6:08AM



VALPARAISO — For almost two hours Thursday, the Porter County Council and the Board of Commissioners talked about funding and budgets.

The joint session, held as the county’s budget meetings get underway, offered frank talk and ideas on a wide array of monetary challenges, from handling rising health care costs to options for emptying beds in the county jail.

Health care was first on the list. Mike Anton, president of Anton Insurance Agency, stepped in with an overview of the county’s plan and expenses. The upshot for the coming year: $9.1 million will be enough to fund insurance for 2014.

This year’s budget is $38 million, and county budget and finance specialist Vicki Urbanik said between $30 million from the tax levy and miscellaneous revenue, the county should hit that mark — except for an additional $2 million needed to fund health care for the rest of the year.

Commissioners will be asking the council for an additional appropriation to cover the shortfall in the coming weeks.

Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, reiterated the commissioners’ offer of just over $2 million in County Economic Development Income Tax money to fund medical expenses at the jail and a shortfall for E-911, an offer he said would be good for multiple years.

As county officials come to terms with projects like drainage, which cost tens of millions of dollars and will take years to tackle, talk also turned to long-term planning.

“I think what we should be doing as much as we can is talk not just about 2014, but 2015 and 2016, and have a three-year outlook on how we are going to address some of these things,” said Councilman Dan Whitten, D-At-large.

While the commissioners are willing to cover the cost of increased medical staff at the jail, the county must still find a way to handle opening the third pod there to alleviate overcrowding.

Evans said commissioners have the money in CEDIT to cover physical improvements to get the third pod ready, but Sheriff David Lain has proposed hiring an additional nine officers for the jail, at a cost of about $50,000 apiece.

That sparked extensive discussion about how the jail is staffed and options for reducing the jail population through work release and expanded community sentencing.

The matter should be handled in a way that’s fiscally responsible, said Councilwoman Karen Conover, R-3rd District. “We only have so much money here.”

There was also talk about how best to use interest from the proceeds of the hospital, and renewed interest in putting the proceeds in a foundation, perhaps as a way to generate a higher investment return.

Auditor Bob Wichlinski said hospital proceeds are around $160 million and the interest is about $10 million, though the interest rate is minimal.



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