Chesterton Tribune

Porter County Council to hold public hearing on 49 corridor plans

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Liberty Township residents will have their voices heard at the upcoming Porter County Council meeting on Tuesday addressing their concerns as the council deliberates whether to approve giving the Town of Chesterton $900,000 to upsize the sewer and water pipes in the Ind. 49 corridor development project.

Upsizing the pipes would allow the lines to reach south of the Chesterton town limit at the Indiana Toll Roll all the way to U.S. 6 in unincorporated Liberty Township for the county to welcome commercial growth in the areas near the new Porter Hospital.

Chesterton’s Redevelopment Commission has already approved nearly $3 million in tax increment financing (TIF) funds to complete its portion of the corridor project. Chesterton Town Councilman and Redevelopment Commission member Jeff Trout told county officials in November this will be “the single largest economic impact project” in the county since the creation of Bethlehem Steel fifty years ago.

Trout has said the corridor will bring new construction and employment opportunities that will increase tax revenue for Porter County.

The County Commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of the $900,000 at their Feb. 21 meeting and will ask the council to appropriate it. Commissioner Board President John Evans, R-North, remarked the county should reach out to help its municipalities. He and fellow Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, voted favorably on the measure while Commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South, dissented saying she felt it unfair to move the project along without consulting the residents and business in that area.

The hospital will not be included in the utility expansion since it is serviced by Damon Run Conservancy District.

Since the commissioners gave the nod, folks in Liberty Twp. have been preparing a list of questions they wish county officials to answer.

Liberty Twp. Board President Ed Seykowski along with affected residents and businesses in the area have drafted a petition asking the County Council to delay or oppose the $900,000 measure until they can give detailed answers to resident’s inquiries. The questions being raised include: why wasn’t Damon Run considered to be the utility provider, why does the county want to enable this corridor without an independent study of who the best provider could be, how does the county plan to proceed, who will benefit from the project, and will these areas be turned over to the Town of Chesterton once the corridor is completed.

The council will hold its public hearings at the start of the council meeting which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Suite 205 of the Porter County Administration Building (155 Indiana Avenue, Valparaiso).

In a similar matter, the council will hear the proposal from the commissioners and the Porter County Redevelopment Commission on the possibility of creating a tax increment finance district in the area of the new hospital or other areas poised for economic growth. Evans raised concerns at the Feb. 21 meeting saying he would want to make sure funds raised from TIF districts do not negatively impact schools which rely on those taxes to operate and advocated for the Redevelopment Commission to not have the power to raise taxes. He and Adams did vote to move forward in favor of advancing the discussion. Knoblock, again, was the sole dissenter.

Also on Tuesday, the council will be given a presentation on the work being done for the countywide drainage comprehensive study, particularly the remedy work that is going on in South Haven where consultants have completed the engineering work and are ready to hear how the county wishes to proceed.

Drainage Board President Dave Burrus and Mike Jabo of DLZ Indiana estimated the cost for the work at $16.5 million, with $6.5 million of that being maintenance improvements. They said at the March 20 commissioners’ meeting they would advocate the maintenance work of placing polymer linings inside the 50-year-old corrugated metal drainage pipes.

Evans suggested the proceeds from the Porter Hospital sale could be used to cover the costs, which would require unanimous approval from both the county council and commissioners.

CEDIT Funds Debate

The agenda also includes a long list of projects funded with county economic development income tax (CEDIT). The council and commissioners have been at odds determining whether the more than $5 million tied up in CEDIT projects and cumulative bridge projects needs to be reappropriated in order for the funds to be used.

The amounts have been tabled since January when County Auditor Bob Wichlinski informed the council that they would need to reapprove all additional appropriations made in 2011 if they wish to transfer them to the 2012 budgets which were flat-lined during the council’s budget hearings last fall.

During the previous council meeting, Council attorney Scott McClure said he was not sure of the matter and was waiting to hear an opinion from the Indiana State Board of Accounts. The commissioners stood by the their attorney’s opinion that the CEDIT projects would not need additional approval, since all expenditures had at one time been approved by the county council.

The auditor’s office received an e-mail from State Board of Accounts county office supervisor Tammy White saying the projects not already targeted for specific expenditures need approval from the county council.

Appropriations that have a lawful contract with a vendor or contractor may however be carried over to the following year according to state regulations.

The e-mail also states the same opinion from the budget division of the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.

Also on Tuesday, the council will revisit the matter of choosing their appointment to the Burns Harbor Economic Development Commission.

County Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, told the Tribune he plans to bring up discussion regarding the future of Enhanced 911. While a plan by fellow council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, proposes to used CEDIT money to help the counties and municipalities to fund the center, Biggs said he wishes to rescind the portion of CEDIT moneys to fund E-911 and establish a Public Safety Tax in its place so the funds could be used correctly for their designated purposes.



Posted 4/2/2012