Memorial Opera House, a question of priorities

Just as individual residents must save and spend within the framework of their household budget, the government must also balance the resources and expenditures of the taxes paid by these residents wisely.

Given this precept, a proposal is on the table to spend over $6.5 million to renovate and expand the Memorial Opera House which sits in downtown Valparaiso. Keep in mind that this proposal is not to repair what might be broken or damaged in the building, but to expand the structure to better accommodate theater operations operating within the Department of Health. While I fully support maintaining the original historic structure, expanding it is another matter altogether.

There are more pressing issues within county government:

· The county government has not established a long-term source of funding to continue to maintain our contract which provides ambulance services to thousands of our residents.

· Part of the Porter County Jail needs renovations to accommodate mentally ill inmates.

· The county government recently commissioned a salary study to better define a fair and competitive salary for county employees. At this time, county officials have no idea what fiscal impact the findings of this study will have on county finances.

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· The Central District County Road Garage, unimproved since the 1960s, is in need of major renovation or total reconstruction.

· Currently, there are county-wide storm water drainage issues and county road maintenance issues that will require millions of dollars to fix.

The Porter County government does not have $6.5 million. Therefore, we have to borrow this money, which only adds to the expenses of the project. Many of our residents I have spoken to believe it makes more sense for the county government to promote a joint public/private partnership to help raise funds for the changes instead of funding all 6 .5 million dollars. Cost sharing or providing matching funds to pay for a project intended to entertain viewers makes sense.

Remember, we don’t provide a single essential county service outside of the Department of Health. As a county official, how do you explain these expenses to residents who do not live in the city of Valparaiso? My job is to represent everyone in the county, not just the few who occasionally attend a theater performance at the MOH.

County officials intend to use the interest earned from investing the hospital funds to repay the loan. Given our current economy, this will mean a higher interest rate, resulting in larger payments. It will also reduce our ability to respond to an emergency because much of what is left in this fund is already obligated to help the county government balance its books each year.

To express your opinion on this subject, contact the seven members of the county council and the three commissioners, myself included. It’s your money. Go to www.porterco.org for contact details.

Jim Biggs is a Porter County Commissioner representing the Northern District.

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