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Porter County Council OKs raises for employees, funding for new jailers

Updated: November 25, 2013 1:03PM



VALPARAISO — The Porter County Council on Tuesday approved a general fund budget of $38.5 million for the coming year, with $1,000 raises for county employees and funds to hire nine jailers to open the third pod of the county jail.

The budget, which also includes underfunding the county’s health insurance plan by $2.5 million with the expectation that the Board of Commissioners will be back next year to ask for additional revenue for health care, passed 5-2.

The budget contains county economic development income tax money and hospital interest funds to shore up finances as well.

Council members Jim Polarek, R-4th District, and Jim Biggs, R-1st District, voted against the budget.

“I think what was done here tonight has compounded our problems. We’re spending more than we’re bringing in, and that’s why I voted against it,” Biggs said after the meeting.

Auditor Bob Wichlinski said projected revenue for the coming year is about the same as it was for this year, $38 million, though that does not take into account the impact of tax caps and property tax appeals, which could lessen revenue.

Sheriff David Lain said he has several tentative agreements with potential jail officers to fill some of the new slots. He has said the training process for new officers takes eight to nine weeks.

“We are hopeful we can move on that,” he said after the budget was approved, adding he expects to have the third pod up and running to alleviate jail overcrowding sometime in the first quarter of next year.

The commissioners and the council agreed to consider putting some of the proceeds from the sale of the hospital, estimated at $159 million by Treasurer Mike Bucko, into an endowment, possibly through the Porter County Community Foundation.

Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said if the county stashed $100 million into an endowment, that would generate a guaranteed return rate of 5 percent, or $5 million, back to the county.

Another $50 million could go into a county bond bank to lend money to the county’s municipalities at higher interest rates than the county’s current investments.

“Both of these are avenues for us to realize some potential gain,” said Board of Commissioners President John Evans, R-North.

Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, also said meetings will begin Friday to establish a storm water utility fee in the county’s unincorporated areas to generate funds for drainage improvements, which could free up $2 million in additional revenue. Now, farmers with regulated ditches pay a tax on those, and those funds can only be used for those projects.

“If we had a storm water utility fee, it could take care of everybody in the county and we would have the ability to bond,” Adams said.



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