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Porter County to redo ARPA plan but some residents still unhappy with process

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The Porter County Commissioners plan to redo the process of allocating federal COVID-19 money with more public involvement. An advisory opinion from the Indiana Public Access Counselor found that the commissioners, in part, likely violated the Open Door Law when they put together the initial plan for American Rescue Plan funds.

Now, they plan to put together a central committee and three or four subcommittees. Commissioner Laura Blaney says each subcommittee would meet publicly, and county residents can apply online to be a member.

"Every committee should have at least one meeting that's either on the weekend or in the evening to take public comment. All the meetings will be open and videotaped. The public can sign up for text alerts, so they know when all the meetings will be," Blaney said during a special commissioners meeting Wednesday.

There are a few items the commissioners hope to keep in the final plan. They include $1.2 million for county employee premium pay, half a million dollars for township trustees to use, and $25,000 for a behavioral health study. They also think the $2.5 million for the Marquette Greenway Trail should remain, since the project needs a local match for federal funding. Commissioner Blaney acknowledged that the Memorial Opera House probably won't get the $5.5 million that was originally proposed, but she felt it should still get some money.

To lead the process, Blaney proposed having regular consultant Stu Summers chair the central committee, but Commissioner Jim Biggs suggested hiring an outside person, even if it would slow the process down.

"To deliberately appoint somebody who could very well have a financial interest on the very projects that we are funding, we should absolutely avoid that," Biggs said.

Some residents weren't satisfied with the updated process. Susie Talevski's 18 minute public comment during Wednesday's special meeting included heated exchanges with County Attorney Scott McClure and Commissioner Blaney.

"You guys don't even care what people think," Talevski said.

"Those are the rules. We don't make the rules," Blaney replied.

"Those are the rules? Wow! You know, Laura, okay, give me a break. 'Those are the rules!' You just don't care! You want to disenfranchise the public, is basically what you want to do," Talevski complained.

The commissioners plan to vote on the American Rescue Plan allocation process on Tuesday. The final plan would be approved in August.