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Kimberly Fowler and Ross LeBleu face off in Ward 4 Town of Porter race

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Editor's Note click below or scroll down for an interview with Ross LeBleu:

Ross LeBleu

 

Kimberly Fowler

By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Republican candidate running for Porter Town Council’s 4th Ward seat believes the town has lost some of its momentum for major development opportunities.

Kimberly Fowler, 42, said she felt “the timing was right” to step up and run for Council in her ward. She faces Democratic Ross LeBleu on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Riving the Gateway

If elected, Fowler wants to shake off the dust of the Gateway to the Dunes plan which started as an agreement between the Town of Porter and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority in 2009. The intention was to develop 128 acres as way to connect the Dunes with other communities, starting with Porter.

The RDA secured millions in grant funds for rebuilding bridges over U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 in the first stage of the Dunes-Kankakee Trail between Dunes State Park and the Dunes Visitor Center.

In addition, the Gateway plan looked to promote new business growth in Porter around the highways, with the goal of bringing new jobs to the area and increase the tax base. Plan developers also talked of building hotels, a conference center, and an indoor/outdoor waterpark.

After receiving a mixed reception from residents and town officials, the Gateway plan has languished during the current Council’s tenure.

“I want there to be change. I want to see us move forward with the Gateway Project,” Fowler said in an interview with the Chesterton Tribune.

The Council members who championed the Gateway plan were not reelected in 2011, Fowler said, including her husband. Trevin Fowler, who served on the Council for about a year and a half after being installed by a Republican caucus in 2010, was the Council’s president in 2011 and actively supported the Gateway plan and Brickyard redevelopment project.

Fowler said with the millions of dollars that have been leveraged for the Gateway to the Dunes, she hopes the project won’t continue to be shelved. The economic impact from the plan would fuel other projects that the Town wishes to accomplish such as paying, or possibly bonding, for new infrastructure and refurbishments to the park system to make it rival those in Valparaiso and Portage. She feels the public works department will benefit by being able to have new trucks.

Attracting businesses is worthwhile because they pay more in property tax, with a 3 percent circuit breaker cap compared to residential which is capped at 1 percent, she said.

Corresponding with the vision of the Gateway project, Fowler is in favor of having “a good mix of commercial, retail and recreational businesses.” She also would like for there to be a children’s museum in town, having seen a strong demand for children’s programming at Hageman Library.

More programs for parks

Another wish of hers is to have an ice skating rink here as a winter activity and in the spring and summer months have kayak launch and rentals on the Little Calumet River, like what was proposed in 2010 for Hawthorne Park. The playgrounds at both Hawthorne and Porter Cove also need new equipment, Fowler said, which she said could be done if the town can pull in more revenue with new development.

Background and leadership

Fowler and her family have lived in Wagner Hills subdivision for the past 10 years, moving from Utah. Her children attend Discovery Charter School, Chesterton Middle School and Chesterton High School.

While she holds no current position on any town boards in Porter, Fowler believes her occupation as a bus driver for the Duneland Schools demonstrates an important attribute for a Council member, a commitment to public service and safety. The Town’s Clerk-Treasurer Carol Pomeroy drove school buses for many years before she took office, she points out.

Fowler said she’s held leadership positions in the past and currently chairs the women’s group at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

One leadership decision recently made by the Council was to appropriate salary increases of roughly 3 percent for each town employee. Fowler said instead of giving raises across-the-board, she would suggest that they be given based on merit, evaluating each employee individually.

Public safety

Fowler said promoting safety should be the top priority of the Council. She said to improve traffic safety on U.S. 20, lower speed limits could be implemented for cars approaching major intersections like Waverly Rd., and crosswalks added to assist those who want to cross over to Seven Peaks waterpark.

“If we can have more pedestrian bridges like with the Brickyard Trail, I think we provide people’s safety and I think that increases our quality of life,” she said.

Safety also plays into how Fowler feels about the dog rule at Porter Beach since there is no longer a police officer to regularly patrol the beach. She is glad the Council has allowed dogs on part of the beach so owners can bring their dogs and not be in violation.

Think bigger

Fowler’s said she would like to expand the scope of projects in town so more people can get involved and think bigger about what the Gateway project can mean for Porter.

“Let’s reach our potential. Let’s have the big vision of what the town can be,” she said.

 

Ross LeBleu

By JEFF SCHULTZ

Go to any town sponsored event in Porter and chances are you will cross paths with Ross LeBleu.

The self-described “very active volunteer” has helped out with Duneland Business Initiative Group, Rebuilding Duneland, the Taste of Duneland and been on hand at events with the Porter Parks Department including Porter’s Perfect Pint, Easter Egg hunt, Family 4th Fest and parade, the Boo Bash and the DBIG Bark in the Bark.

LeBleu, 49, was one of the final members on the Town Park Board in 2013 when the Council decided to disband it and was its vice-president at the time. He had openly supported the Council’s reorganization of the parks department to consolidate resources.

Now LeBleu, a Democrat, hopes to win his first term on the Council as the 3rd Ward representative.

“I really want to be a breath of fresh air and come in and be able to work with the Council in coming up with ideas to strengthen the town and economic growth,” he said as his reasons for running.

Keep things flowing

In an interview with the Chesterton Tribune, LeBleu talked of how he favors the Council’s leadership and would like to help it transition to whatever order the Council finds itself in 2016.

“I think the Council is working well. I would like to keep things flowing the way they are right now in the new alignment,” said LeBleu.

He said he doesn’t plan on calling for any policy changes since residents seem to approve of how the Council operates. “The people in town I’ve talked to seem to be happy with the way things are going.”

Managing the town

Originally from a small community in Louisiana, LeBleu moved to Porter in 2010, residing near Porter Beach. He has worked 25 years as a real estate property manager for a number of condominium associations. He said he has planned large budgets up to the six to seven figure range and is responsible for keeping them balanced, a skill he feels will be valuable in managing the Town of Porter.

As a property manager, LeBleu said he’s knowledgeable about working with state and federal codes and managing people.

“I enjoy taking care of people. I like the fact I can make a difference in someone’s day and to satisfy a need they may have,” said LeBleu. “I hear complaints as a property manager and I work to fix them.”

LeBleu said he wants the Town to live within its budgetary means because with the economy still recovering from a recession, an increase in taxes or fees is not best for the residents. The Council however needs to strategize the best ways to fund services such as sanitation, streets, police and fire.

But he “absolutely” agrees with the Council’s proposal to give Town employees a 3 percent increase in salaries next year, feeling they deserve it for the years they’ve managed to tighten their spending and the successes of working together.

Fixing drainage has been a common concern residents have raised but LeBleu said residents should realize the Town is not responsible for the problems on private properties caused by poor implementation at the fault of the developers.

A symbiotic relationship

When asked what he sees as priorities for the Council, LeBleu said transparency is important and being able to move in the right direction. He hopes to build the relationship between the Town and its residents, finding more ways they can work together when needed and make them feel a part of their community.

The Council, he adds, can boost the relationship further by listening to how the residents would like to see their town grow and implementing their ideas.

Master plan for downtown

Speaking on ways to expand the local economy, LeBleu said he wants the Council to continue developing a master plan for the downtown area, promote local growth with local businesses and help existing businesses attain their vision. Maintaining the characteristics of a small town is an important asset for Porter, he said.

LeBleu said tax increment finance (TIF) funds collected by the Redevelopment Commission could be used to improve development on U.S. 20. He would also like to see a better configuration of traffic lanes and lights at the intersection of U.S. 20 and Waverly Rd. to improve traffic flow at that intersection.

Gateway debate

While LeBleu’s opponent in the Nov. 3 election, Republican Kimberly Fowler, is calling for the Town to rekindle the Gateway to the Dunes Project, LeBleu said it is not a path he would suggest.

The Gateway plan included a mix of commercial and retail development, along with the possibility of hotels, vacation villas and an indoor/outdoor waterpark, along the Ind. 49/U.S. 20 corridor which LeBleu said are “risky ventures.”

In four years or so, things have changed as the bike trails are almost complete and the land previously eyed for the Gateway project has now been donated by Lake Erie Land Company to the National Park Service and is unavailable for development, LeBleu said.

LeBleu said he would like to see the funds and grants garnered by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority for the Gateway project remain in town for improvements and be spent in a sensible way.

 

 

 

Posted 10/23/2015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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