Chesterton Tribune



Democrats have a choice for Chesterton Town Council

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In the municipal primary election on Tuesday, May 7, Chesterton Town Council Member Dane Lafata will defend his 3rd District seat against a challenge from fellow Democrat Robert Allison. The Chesterton Tribune invited both to respond to a candidate questionnaire.

The Tribune set word limits for each question and reserved the right to edit for length.

(1) Age, occupation.

Lafata: I am 39. I prepare income tax returns, do bookkeeping and payroll, and on the side perform IT consulting.

Allison: 57; steelworker.

(2) For Lafata: Why are you running for re-election? (75 words) After college I wanted to return to Chesterton because it was a great place to grow up. Iím running for re-election because I want to keep Chesterton a great place to grow up and lay the ground work to make Chesterton a place the next generation wants to return to. There are a few things I would like to accomplish over the next four years (see my answer to question No. 9).

For Allison: Why are you running for election (75 words) To bring a fresh perspective to the town.

(3) For Lafta: What specific skill sets have you brought to the Town Council? (75 words) When the council created an ad hoc Salary Study Group, I was added to the group because of my background in bookkeeping. I was able to sort through pages and pages of numbers and boil it down to what was important. Iíve also been available to the Clerk-Treasurer when she has had payroll questions. Another skill I bring to the council is I listen and evaluate options.

For Allison: What specific skill sets would you bring to the Town Council? (75 words) I'm a great listener and great communicator. I think we need to LISTEN more to the residents of this town when they speak and give them opportunities to do so.

(4) Differentiate yourself from your opponent and indicate why in particular you believe yourself to be the better candidate (100 words).

Lafata: Iíve served on the Town Council the last three years, the Redevelopment Commission the last two years and the Tax Abatement Committee the last six years. Iím experienced and knowledgeable. Iíve served as the treasurer of Liberty Rec baseball/softball and even though I donít have children who wrestle I also serve as treasurer of the Chesterton Wrestling Club because I enjoy giving back to the groups that made me the person I am today. On a personal level, I donít overreact; I listen and think through what I am going to say before I say it.

Allison: I don't think one person is a ďbetterĒ person than any other. We are ALL created equally and should be treated as such.

(5) What are the key issues in this race? (150 words)

Lafata: The most important issue facing Chesterton is the budget. Over the last four years the council has worked to catch up the townís employeesí salaries to the surrounding communities. We need to make sure at a minimum we are able to give raises that keep up with inflation. We need to make sure all employees are treated fairly. In addition to the budget, we need to work on bringing new businesses to town and continue to hold developers accountable and make sure their developments fit in with Chesterton.  

Allison: I believe there are differing opinions on how developments or subdivisions are being implemented in town. We are losing ďGreen Space.Ē I believe there should be better focus on taking care of our town employees currently and those that are retired. I believe we need to investigate the possibility of building a second fire station east and south of the current one. We are developing to the east and south and response times are crucial in emergencies. There are several assisted living facilities there as well as a terrific company in Urschel Laboratories, along with a number of medical and health facilities, and plans for two hotels that would bring additional people to town. Having a second fire station in that area would also assist in wear and tear on the existing fire vehicles.

(6) At least two members of the Advisory Plan Commission have expressed concern about the possible over-development of duplexes and paired patio homes in town. Meanwhile, residents of Westchester South, Stone Meadows, and Rosehill Estates have all expressed concern in recent months about proposed planned unit developments in their neighborhoods. What in your view should be the optimum mix of R-1, R-2, and R-3 in Chesterton; and what is your opinion of the value of PUDs? (150 words)

Lafata: Chestertonís housing is currently at 67 percent single-family homes and 11 percent apartment complexes, with the rest being other smaller rentals. I believe this is a good mix and would not like to see the single family rate drop below two-thirds. Having a good mix like we do is important to give retiring seniors and those starting families the option to live in Chesterton. When I moved back to Chesterton, my first place was a two-bedroom duplex, then we moved to a larger rental as my family grew and saved money to buy my current house. PUDs are important because they allow the town to see what a developer plans for the whole development and allows the town and developer to discuss options to make the whole development fit with the town.

Allison: The optimum mix of R-1, R-2, and R-3 should be addressed by the Advisory Plan Commission and the Council should listen. There are great homes in Chesterton that are vacant. I believe there should be incentives, and possibly breaks for future residents or companies to refurbish and occupy these homes before we go taking homes and building PUDs that encroach on existing homes. The residents have, and rightfully so, been upset about the plans for some of these PUDs and the Advisory Plan Commission should listen as well as council members. I have received numerous residents asking my position on this topic. My position is, Let's investigate occupying the existing homes we have.

(7) For Lafata: You are a sitting member of the Redevelopment Commission. Explain tax increment financing and discuss your preferences for the expenditure of TIF moneys (150 words). Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts are a necessary evil in this time of tight budgets. TIFs allow the town to keep and use the property tax collected on the assessed value in the TIF over the assessed value of the TIF in a base year. This does mean the increase in tax income is not shared with the county, the schools, or library. There are many state limits on how TIF money can be spent. I believe the TIF money has been well spent on projects like the fiber-optic project, and should continue to be used on projects that make Chesterton as a whole better. One area I would like to look more closely at is when we have an option to use grant money we do so outside of the TIFs.

For Allison: As a member of the Town Council, you could be appointed to the Redevelopment Commission. Explain tax increment financing and discuss your preferences for the expenditure of TIF moneys (150 words). Tax increment funding can be used in a number of specific ways. My belief is we need to get our infrastructure inspected and repaired accordingly before we tax it any more. We are building and annexing and yet we still have failure in aging piping and force mains in town. Let's focus on bringing those up-to-date and getting our equipment in top shape as well if needed.

(8) During the current Town Councilís term, Chesterton Tribune readers have occasionally voiced dissatisfaction with the vacant Kmart (and other empty buildings) on Indian Boundary Road; the proliferation of senior housing east of Ind. 49; and the proposed double-hotel project at Coffee Creek Center. What role, if any, does the Town Council have in promoting and managing economic development? (100 words)

Lafata: No one is happy with vacant buildings, especially the old Kmart at one of the most traveled intersections in town. But that and the other buildings have owners, and we do the best we can to work with them. I donít believe we can or should use eminent domain to fix this issue. The senior housing and the hotels are proof businesses want to come here and thatís good. The council has empowered the Town Manager to work full-time promoting Chesterton. He has done a good job; unfortunately, much of his work is done outside of the publicís eye.

Allison: The Town Council should be promoting the town as a place where people can come for a ďOne StopĒ for all needs. Make Chesterton a place where people would LOVE to visit, shop, live, and even retire. We NEED a place where we can go to get this done. Our residents are spending their moneys in Portage, Michigan City, and Valparaiso. We are losing serious moneys to the surrounding municipalities.

(9) The Chesterton Branding Leadership Team has been at work for the better part of two years. What single action do you think the Town Council could take most effectively and economically to improve the Downtown? (75 words)

Lafata: We need to do three things to help improve the Downtown. We need to improve parking in or near the Downtown, we need to implement the rail quiet zones throughout Downtown, and we need 200 activity days a year in the Downtown. The 200 activity days can be parades, live music, or other events. We need to continue to work with the Chesterton Branding Leadership Team, the Chamber, and other stakeholders to accomplish the above.

Allison: I believe tax breaks or breaks in renovation fees of the Downtown buildings are necessary to attract potential businesses. It is tragic to see so many vacant building in town. I absolutely LOVE what they did with Riley's Railhouse. The building and business are beautiful! Ivy's Bohemia House is as well. Again, we need to make Chesterton a place where people of all ages would love to come and eat, shop, live, and even retire.

(10) For Lafata: What specific issue do you believe the current Town Council could have done a better job of addressing? (75 words). The Town Council could have done a better job explaining why things are the way they are. This is often a more complicated issue than you would think it should be with confidentiality and other issues. This leads into Question No. 11, but I plan on taking a bigger role in explaining what I can. For example, we could explain better how park budgets may not be used for other departments.

For Allison: What specific issue do you believe the current Town Council has done a good job of addressing? (75 words). I believe the council did a great job in getting the town employees raises. Specifically the firefighters and police officers. This is something that needs to continue and should have been addressed years ago. Our Street and Utility departments do an OUTSTANDING job as well. Our streets and sidewalks are taken care of on an amazing level. Our Utility Department is very quick at addressing the collapse of aging force mains as well.

(11) For Lafata: Your first three years on the Town Council were quiet ones, with you only rarely participating in discussion of an issue, offering your opinion on a matter under debate, or making a motion. Do you expect to take a more active role in council business if re-elected to a second term? (75 words) The Town Council members receive the agenda the Thursday before the meetings. I read through the proposed ordinances and resolutions, I do my homework, and ask questions or request clarification before the meeting. I do take an active role in council business, just not as verbally during the meetings as I could be and I will work on explaining the issues in Question No. 10 when I can.

For Allison: On March 12, 2018, you appeared before the Town Council to apologize for comments which you posted to social media on the subject of employee wages. Those comments you characterized as ďinsensitive, unwarranted, and unfair.Ē Why do you believe you have the temperament to serve on the Town Council? (75 words) I made a promise and commitment to myself and supporters that I WILL NOT engage in mud slinging or negativity. I respectfully request the same. An apology was given and accepted, letís move the town forward, not backwards.



Posted 4/23/2019






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