Chesterton Tribune

Bollinger vs. Stinson for Porter Town Council seat

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Michele Bollinger and Greg Stinson agree on one thing: the Porter town code needs to be reviewed and updated.

Beyond that, there are clear differences between Bollinger, a Republican who’s seeking her second term on the Porter Town Council, and Stinson the Democratic challenger. The winner will represent Porter’s 5th Ward.

Bollinger is a college professor who wants to finish the projects she’s started in her first four years and continue the progress already made. Stinson, who serves as executive director for Institutional Effectiveness at Valparaiso University, says Porter needs a more-open government and to develop a strategic plan with both short-term and long-term objectives.

Below are the candidates’ responses to a Chesterton Tribune questionnaire. Some responses were condensed due to length.

 

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GREG STINSON

 

MICHELE BOLLINGER

Age: 42

Years lived in town: 17

What qualifications/experiences do you have that makes you the best candidate for your office? As to my experience, I have been a Town Council member since 2008 and served as the president for two years. Since 2010, I have been a commissioner on the Porter Redevelopment Commission and currently serve as the president. For the past four years, I have been a member of the Porter Plan Commission. I am also the council representative to various regional boards and committees. As for my qualifications, I have a master’s degree from Valparaiso University. I have spent the last 21 years in the teaching profession and have acquired important communication and problem-solving skills that have proven to be essential as I have served the Town of Porter the last four years.

If elected, what three projects, changes or policies would you like to see implemented for Porter? 1) Continue the focus in developing both the Gateway Project and the Brickyard in order to create sustainable jobs and to lower property taxes. 2) Continue the effort in rehabilitating the aging sewer system. A plan of action was outlined by the sewer rate committee, and we are currently in the midst of implementing that plan with $5.1 million in upgrades. 3) Continue to examine and make the necessary changes and updates to our Town code. The Town’s current building code needs to be evaluated and updated.

Should Town Council members be eligible to receive health insurance coverage for themselves and their families on the Town’s employee policy? Yes. The Indiana code clearly states that elected officials may particpate in the employee’s health insurance program. It is my understanding that the purpose of this provision is to encourage qualified, competent candidates to seek office.

To what extent should the Town assist developers (such as land purchase, give tax abatement, install infrastructure, fund feasibility studies) when implementing the Gateway plan? The Gateway Sub-area plan, that underwent a very public process and was approved by the Redevelopment Commission, the Plan Commission and the Town Council, indicates that as a community, we have the ability to attract the development outlined in the plan that could generate approximately $1.9 million in property taxes. Therefore, I believe that offering tax abatements, installing infrastructure, purchasing property, etc. are invaluable negotiation tools when dealing with a developer. When offering any of these incentives, careful consideration should be given so as to not jeopardize the financial stability of the Town.

Should Porter designate land within the Gateway project boundaries as a tax-increment financing or TIF district, reserving future property taxes on new development there for the Town alone? Yes. Our community can collect almost 100 percent of what is generated in areas targeted as a TIF district. This allows the Town to determine how to spend the property tax dollars generated by areas of growth. I support collecting 100 percent of the revenue for our community’s use 100 percent of the time. An example of this type of policy, thinking and action is the $5.1 million in sewer improvements that are occurring now. Without the use of TIF funds, the residents would have shouldered the burden of this expense. If needed, I would consider supporting any direct investment of TIF revenue or release of those funds to assist with projects within the Duneland School Corporation.

How would you proceed regarding the 32-acre Brickyard redevelopment project? It is important that we continue to move this project forward. After we receive the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s response to the environmental study completed by Weaver Boos, their suggestions should be implemented into the engineering of the development, and we should continue to aggressively seek federal grants to help with the remediation of the contaminated area within the site.

It has been Town Policy to have the Porter building commissioner be a member of the Porter Plan Commission. In addition to a base salary, the building commission also is paid 10 percent of the building permit fees collected; these quarterly checks totaled $4,972 in 2010 and $3,025 as of Oct. 5 of this year. By voting yes on any petition (subdivision, PUD) that will result in the issuance of one or more building permits, isn’t that a conflict of interest since the building commissioner will benefit financially from his/her vote? Yes. In the past, I have approached two council members (one of which was the former building commissioner) and suggested that the 10% commission received by the building commissioner and building inspector be eliminated. I did not receive support from either council member to move this issue forward for reconsideration.

What will be your main priority as a member of the Porter Town Council? My entire premise for seeking a second term is to finish what we have started. Therefore, my main priority will be to see many of the projects that were started come into fruition --- projects such as the Gateway, the Brickyard, the Dunes Kankakee Trail, and the Orchard Pedestrian Trail.

 

GREG STINSON

Age: 49

Years lived in town: 12+

What qualifications/experience do you have that makes you the best candidate for your office? My professional experience has focused on issues of planning, efficiency, cost-revenue analysis, and program review and assessment. I also focus on issues related to compliance with regulations established by various federal and state agencies to ensure that the university’s decisions and activities do not violate any rules or requirements. This experience will allow me to help the Town and its various departments work more efficiently and cost effectively while also ensuring that essential services are being provided to benefit all residents. My seven years on the Porter Town Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals will also help as we move forward with planning for future development in the Town.

If elected, what three projects, changes or policies would you like to see implemented for Porter? The Town needs to develop a strategic plan for its operation focusing on both short-term and long-term objectives. This plan, different from a Comprehensive Plan, allows the Town to prioritize its budgets, organizational structure, development efforts and spending to be able to maximize efficiency and to fund essential projects and services. Reviewed annually, the strategic plan would be developed by a group of town officials, Town Council members and private citizens with opportunities for public comment. We need to review/revise our Porter Town Code. Many sections are ambiguous, contradictory and outdated. This has led to inefficiency and legal issues. I will recommend that we post all reports, minutes and other documents that fall under the Freedom of Information Act on the town’s website. We need an open process where residents are treated with respect. I’ll recommend the council or department head be expected to provide answers to any questions citizens ask and not follow the current practice of simply thanking the resident for their comment and ignoring the question or issue.

Should Town Council members be eligible to receive health insurance coverage for themselves and their families on the Town’s employee policy? NO. One of my first actions will be to ask our Town Attorney how we can change the current practice of using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the health benefits of council members. They should be required to pay the full cost of participation or not at all. Council members are NOT full-time Town employees. We do not provide this benefit to other part-time employees. It’s unconscionable for my opponent to expect the Town to pay over $17,000 per year to provide her and her family with health care. Having the Town pay for personal benefits not available to others while cutting department budgets is both irresponsible and evidence of misplaced priorities.

To what extent should the Town assist developers (such as purchase land, give tax abatement, install infrastructure, fund feasibility studies) when implementing the Gateway plan?

No answer given.

Should Porter designate land within the Gateway project boundaries as a tax-increment financing or TIF district, reserving future property taxes on new development there for the Town alone? TIF districts provide additional tax revenue since the money collected gets to stay in that area of Town. However, TIF regulations reduce the flexibility how the revenues can be spent and actually can reduce the funds available for police, fire, parks and schools. TIF areas make sense where additional funds are needed to expedite development or to pay off bond debt for a TIF project more quickly saving money. Overuse of TIFs can have serious negative effects on a Town’s general budget and its ablility to provide basic services. Expansion/implementation of a TIF zone should only be done after careful analysis of the short-term and long-term economic impact this action will have.

How would you proceed regarding the 32-acre Brickyard redevelopment project? It’s difficult to give a definitive answer. The Redevelopment Commission (RDC) has not been entirely open in providing pertinent information. However, it is evident the original plan is not feasible. The recent environmental study submitted to IDEM indicates the Town likely will lose about 25% of the developable acreage to remediate contamination on the property. The next council and RDC will need to seek legal guidance from an environmental attorney and work with IDEM on the best way to move forward. The RDC already purchased the property. We need to examine how to use it in a safe, cost-effective manner. This process will take time and serious consideration including consultation with a variety of experts and public input.

It has been Town policy to have the Porter building commissioner be a member of the Porter Plan Commission. In addition to a base salary, the building commissioner also is paid 10% of the building permit fees collected. These quarterly checks totaled $4,972 in 2010 and $3,025 as of Oct. 5 this year. By voting yes on any petition (subdivision, PUD) that will result in the issuance of one or more building permits, isn’t that a conflict of interest since the building commissioner will benefit financially from his/her vote? I do not support a piecework approach to paying the building commissioner. We need to examine methods other than the current percentage system to ensure the position is being fairly compensated. We also need to examine our entire code and policy for permits. We now require permits for any work over $500. Minor replacement/maintenance often costs more than $500. Residents should not be required to get a permit for routine maintenance on their properties. The ordinance should be rewritten either to specify the type of work requiring a permit (new construction, major renovations, etc.) or to provide a more realistic minimum cost figure that is more in line with current prices.

What will be your main priority as a member of the Porter Town Council? The common theme of comments raised as I’ve campaigned is a lack of trust and transparency. Many residents simply don’t feel that the current council is concerned or responsive to the expressed needs and questions by the citizens. The review of Town programs and departments, and the development of a long-term plan, will take some time. But we can quickly change the tone in town hall by constructively engaging the residents and being responsible representatives who will work in their best interests.

 

 

Posted 10/26/2011