Chesterton Tribune

ArcelorMittal seeks to extend tax breaks to 2023

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Burns Harbor and ArcelorMittal USA, the town’s largest taxpayer, have renewed talks over a proposal that would extend the steelmaker’s current tax breaks into 2023.

As first proposed nine months ago, in return Mittal would pay off the remainder of Burns Harbor’s outstanding sewer bonds as they come due freeing up more than $500,000 annually for other town needs.

Town Council president Jim McGee confirmed Tuesday the matter will be discussed as a status update at tonight’s council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at the town hall.

McGee said even though Mittal’s current tax abatement doesn’t expire until 2013, the town needs to decide on the proposal one way or another so it has some certainty about future finances.

Aug. 10, 2011 the former Town Council announced they couldn’t come to a consensus on Mittal’s request and tabled the matter until a new council took office Jan. 1. Since that time new members Jeff Freeze, Greg Miller and Gene Weibl have been brought up to speed on the steelmaker’s proposal.

"We’ve been working diligently to share the information with the new council,” said McGee, who like Mike Perrine are veteran members both re-elected to the council.

Town attorney Bob Welsh has been verifying Mittal’s current intentions regarding the abatement extension. Part of the 2011 negotiations were that Burns Harbor would promise not to put the steel plant in a tax-increment financing or TIF district during the agreement’s term.

While Burns Harbor officials had been discussing the Mittal proposal for some time last year although not publicly, June 27 both the Town Council and the town’s Redevelopment Commission met publicly for three hours discussing the tax plan with Mittal representatives. Split votes that night led to town adoption of required abatement paperwork that later could be approved, modified or rescinded.

A subsequent lengthy public hearing took place July 13, 2011 at which speakers representing Duneland School Corp. said the Mittal proposal was unacceptable because under one scenario the school district could see a potential annual loss of $1.3 million in tax revenue.

Since that time Duneland’s finances haven’t improved under the state’s education financing formula and the school district has a referendum on the May 8 primary ballot seeking to raise more local money.

Some speakers at last year’s Burns Harbor public hearing urged the Town Council to go slowly and consider renegotiating the abatement options, while other speakers said the town needs to work with Mittal to assure it remains vital and in business here.

Two town financial advisors later McGee announced Aug. 10 the Mittal proposal was being taken off the agenda until 2012.

Other matter’s on tonight’s Town Council agenda include discussion regarding a proposed major increase in the town cumulative capital development fund rate, a visit by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore administrators, second reading of the 2012 salary ordinance, a lease agreement to retain the town’s drop-off recycling site, a street-light cost increase, and engineering service proposals.

Also, department heads will report and the public may comment at the meeting’s conclusion under audience participation.

 

Posted 3/14/2012