Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Rep. Soliday sets legislative priorities: RBA reform and Lake County flooding prevention lead list

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Set to begin his third term representing Indiana’s fourth district, state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, is planning to introduce several bills in January’s 2011 Indiana General Assembly.

Soliday is eager to implement legislation that would be protect the improvements made to the Little Calumet River Basin levees in Lake County west of Interstate 65.

He said there currently is no provision in place that requires a certain body to maintain levees along the river, although there was an agreement made roughly thirty years ago that called for each community along the river to use their own funds to maintain their levees. The improvements, Soliday said, could be wasted with one hard rain.

“Most of these cities are struggling with their budgets, said Soliday. “What we want to do is maintain that which has already been completed.”

The total accumulated cost on flood control in Lake County is $250 million from state and federal sources.

The bill does not include the Porter County portion of the Little Calumet River. Soliday has heard proposals to charge flood plain residents all the way to LaPorte County, which he sees as not the best solution.

“If you try to use maintenance fees to maintain an area that has no levee, you’re just going to suck down all the money over into that section,” he said.

Soliday said he wishes to create a new five-member commission similar to the current Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission. He said the commission will be responsible for organizing close to $9 million in funds for the first few years which would be used to remove trees that have grown up in the levees.

The new commission could collect $2.9 million per year, enough for maintenance plus a “cushion” for an emergency contingency only to be used for flood control.

The funding source is uncertain as of now, Soliday said, but it will likely be collected through a small fee from those who live in the flood plain area.

Soliday said he is against establishing a conservancy district for the Little Calumet that would cross into Porter County. He said a conservancy district would require large amounts of time and a major rain could hit while getting all the ducks in a row.

“We don’t want to go down that path. We need to get it moving before we get more deterioration,” he said.

He also said he does not want to wait on Illinois, which too has seen flooding, to develop their own maintenance plan for their section of the river.

Proposal to changes RBA Board

Another bill Soliday will push is to retool the 21-member Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority.

The goal is to include representation from all the mayors and one Lake County commissioner. Porter County government and municipalities could also join the RBA if they vote to do so. The RBA board would also need to approve the appointment.

Soliday said appointing an alternate for those members is permissible if that person has at least five years experience in transportation management, urban planning or financial management.

The RBA, which was created in 2005 by the legislation along with its funding source the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, helps provide funding opportunities for buses in Lake and Porter counties.

Some members of the Porter County Council and outgoing county commissioner Robert Harper, D-Center, have recently attacked the motives of the RBA, warning that Porter County residents could be taxed by the RDA to make up the shortage of funds.

Soliday said the RDA does not have taxing authority and that its function is to be a granter for capital, not operating expenses. He said from the conversations he’s had with other legislators that there is “no mood to get any further taxing to the RDA” in the state legislature.

Soliday acknowledges the RBA is in need of funds fast if it wishes to keep operating and would need to secure a plan in place sometime next year. He hopes the changes to the board will help expedite that process.

“If they don’t get some kind of a plan, they probably won’t be here in eighteen months,” he said.

A referendum to raise taxes for mass transit would not be a wise solution, Soliday said, even if the vote is in favor because it would take more than a year to collect the money.

Soliday said North Lake County bus systems have been short of funds for years. Transportation heads in Lake County have in the past requested the state pick up the tab. Soliday said it is not in the constitution for the state to pay for the bus routes and said South Bend and Indianapolis are cities which independently fund their bus systems.

“If Lake County wants a bus system, then they are going to have to step up to the plate,” he said.

Part of Soliday’s bill also blocks bus service operators from being on the board which has met opposition from those who believe their experience is valuable.

Soliday believes that even if the bill is shot down in the assembly, the bill is a catalyst for discussion that will eventually lead to some type of solution.

“Our current style in Northwest Indiana is we don’t talk about the issue. We find somebody and accuse their motives as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, this is an issue we need to talk about,’” said Soliday. “We’ve got good people in Northwest Indiana and we’ve got a lot of resources. We got to quit talking about what is different about us and start talking about what we have in common.”

Porter County bus service

In regards to Porter County, Soliday said the top concern he has heard from citizens is the limited capacity of the Porter County Aging and Community Services buses. He said there is a definite need for public transportation systems to expand service to those who cannot get around by car such as the elderly and the poor.

“That need should be recognized at the table,” he said.

Soliday believes the best way to maintain a high quality bus system is using small and on-demand buses, like PCACS.

In the Driver’s Seat

Earlier in November, Soliday was appointed chair of the Roads and Transportation Committee by state House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

In the works is a five-year plan that takes a close look at infrastructure within towns and counties. The study in its first year will look at status of county roads, bridges, railroad crossings and others, and quantify them at county, city and state levels.

“Many counties are crying for funding to pave roads and streets so we are going to try and define the problem that first year,” he said.

Subsequent steps will find the sizes of the problems and then designate possibly in 2013 who will be responsible for funding, whether it be the state or local governments.

Redistricting is Coming

Soliday is also a member of the Elections and Apportionment Committee this year which will look at the complete 2010 census data from this spring to decide how it will redraw districts.

The redistricting will come later in the assembly, Soliday said, no earlier than March. Concerns have risen on how a Republican majority will decide boundaries, but Soliday believes that the committee will be fair based on Speaker Bosma’s selections.

“Everyone on the committee is level-headed. In other words, no one is extremely partisan. I’m committed to fair districts, but we all have our view on what is fair,” said Soliday.

Public hearings for the redistricting will also be held during that time for citizens to give their desired input.

County Government Reform

Soilday said he is also drafting a “complicated” bill that would transfer legislative power from the boards of commissioners and to the county council. The commissioners instead would be given the responsibility of creating a unified budget for all departments similar to what a mayor or governor does.

Soliday said there are six counties in Indiana which follow this method.

Another part of the bill allows the commissioners to develop a policy and ethics manual that all county departments would need to abide by.

 

Posted 12/16/2010

 

 

 

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