County Council boosts Expo Center funding

Sheriff David Reynolds

Sheriff David Reynolds

The Porter County Expo Center should have enough funds to operate through April after the County Council voted to shift $50,000 from the general fund to the venue, which was struggling after several events canceled because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

The county-owned event center hit a rough patch in early January after canceling its annual New Year’s Eve bash, a loss of $30,000 in revenue, and then was faced with several cancellations and postponements.

“As long as nothing else cancels and we stay trending down” in COVID-19 cases, the additional money should carry the Expo Center through April, Lori Daly, the center’s director, told the council during a Jan. 25 meeting.

In a Jan. 4 email to the County Council and the Board of Commissioners, Daly told officials that on that morning alone, three of the facility’s larger corporate events, scheduled for late January and February, were being postponed.

While Daly said in the email that she was already anticipating revenue shortages because of the cancellation of the New Year’s Eve party, the three additional postponements would leave her without the necessary revenue for payroll, utilities, insurance and other needs.

“For the four recently canceled events, the lost revenue is approximately $45,000. I am hoping more do not cancel or postpone,” she wrote. “We currently have enough to cover the next two payrolls and most of January expenses. But in February, the well runs dry.”

She updated the council during the meeting and said the Expo Center had a few events that had not canceled.

In other business, funding for license plate readers at various locations throughout the county hit a snag when Sheriff David Reynolds’ request for $250,000 was advertised as $25,000.

Even though the amount was correct on the meeting agenda, Deputy Auditor Toni Downing, who didn’t know how the error occurred, said the request, from the Public Safety Data Tech fund, would have to be advertised again for the Feb. 22 meeting.

“Would the $25,000 get you started for what you need?” Councilman Mike Jessen, R-4th District, asked Reynolds.

“Not really. Let’s just wait,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds told the council during their Dec. 7 meeting at the Memorial Opera House that the license plate readers aren’t used for speeding or traffic offenses but are used for drug trafficking and other crimes.

The information from the readers can be stored and shared with other departments, Reynolds said at that meeting, and also can come into play for bank robberies and child abductions.

The department already has one at Meridian Road and U.S. 6 in Liberty Township and during the Dec. 7 meeting, on a split vote, the council approved $17,000 in funding for one at Ind. 149 and U.S. 6 in Portage Township.

“It’s part of the overall plan,” Reynolds said then, adding another is planned for Indian Boundary Road and Ind. 49 in Chesterton. “We’ve got like 30 locations, ultimately.”

He added that the readers are “the most important thing we’ve ever done” and are in place in Lake and LaPorte counties. Reynolds hopes to get High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area funding for cameras on major roadways.

If there’s a shooting in Valparaiso and the suspect travels north on Campbell Street, which turns into Meridian Road, “we can track them,” Reynolds said, adding the information goes into a national database. “It’s just another tool for law enforcement to use.”

The reader already in place has been used for several investigations, Reynolds said.

Concerned about privacy, Council President Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd District, and Councilman Andy Bozak, R-At-large, voted against the funding.

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