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Porter County Council adds Memorial Opera House project funding back into ARPA plan

rendering of the Memorial Opera House and sheriff's residence renovation and expansion plans
rendering of the Memorial Opera House and sheriff's residence renovation and expansion plans

Funding to upgrade the Memorial Opera House is apparently back in Porter County's plans for American Rescue Plan money.

Opposition to that idea last year set off a months-long process that gave nonprofit groups a chance to apply for a share of the federal COVID money, while a group of subcommittees put together a final plan. But the county council held off on considering the plan in August, and only partially approved it in September, failing to appropriate the almost $9 million recommended for behavioral health and nonprofits.

On Tuesday, council members approved a lower amount of almost $7.9 million but also added $5 million for the renovation and expansion of the Opera House. The hope is that the Opera House Foundation would contribute the remaining $2.5 million required.

Dawn Miller, a vocal critic of the project, complained that it wasn't specifically listed on Tuesday's meeting agenda, denying residents a chance to speak on it before a vote was taken. "The $5 million to the Memorial Opera House was not typed on here. It was kind of just thrown out there," Miller told council members.

The council also wants to use $2.7 million in ARPA money for paving projects and another $1 million for pay and insurance, to help bring employees in line with a recent wage study.

Rebecca Tomerlin served on the nonprofits and employers subcommittee. She was concerned the county wasn't following the process it laid out when it gave nonprofits a chance to apply.

"I am concerned that we are using some of those funds to fill a gap in our budget, and even though the final rule may say that it's legal to do, my concern is "Is it ethical to do?" Tomerlin said.

The additions to the ARPA plan now go to the county commissioners for their approval.