The Porter County Council has agreed to pony up $740,409 in CEDIT funds, to
upsize the sanitary sewer pipe about to be put in the ground by the Town of
Chesterton and make it sufficiently large to serve property along Ind. 49 in
unincorporated Liberty Township.
But that money is going to come from the Porter County Commissioners’ own
special CEDIT account, a large portion of which has already previously been
allocated for drainage projects.
In fact the idea to use the Commissioners’ own account, rather than to
allocate a brand-new CEDIT line-item, was County Council Member Jim Biggs’,
in a move which put Commissioner John Evans—a vocal supporter of the
project—squarely on the spot. Biggs’ message to Evans, in essence: put up or
Evans, for his part, initially objected to the use of the Commissioners’
special account, quibbled with Biggs over its current balance, and noted
that something like $460,000 of it has already been allocated for drainage.
But the tide was against Evans.
The vote: 5-2 in support of the partnership.
Voting for it were Biggs, R-1st—who changed his nay vote last week to
a yea; Laura Blaney, D-at large, and Karen Conover, R-3d, both of
whom voted yea last week; and President Dan Whitten, D-at large, and
Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, both of whom abstained last week pending the receipt of
Voting against the partnership were Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Sylvia Graham,
D-at large, both of whom voted nay last week.
Biggs justified his change in vote in this way: “All of this is about
prioritization,” he said. “We can’t afford everything we’d like to do. If
this proposal . . . is that important, shouldn’t we consider taking moneys
that are already allocated? We could say this: ‘We were going to do that.
But we believe this is more important. We’re about jobs. We’re about
Rivas, on the other hand, after keeping his powder dry for a week, voiced
his belief that the partnership would in no way discommode the Damon Run
Conservancy District, whose reps have said that the district not only is
capable of serving the unincorporated area in question but is depending on
serving that area in order to grow. “There’s enough room for Damon Run to
grow and enough room for the Town of Chesterton to grow,” Rivas said.
Conover made the same point as Rivas. “I think there’s enough business there
that everyone can share it,” she said. “Damon Run is not going to be cut
out. This is Phase I. If this doesn’t happen, there won’t be a Phase II.”
Whitten, after receiving assurances from Town of Chesterton officials that
forced annexations would not be the ultimate result of the partnership, said
that he looked at this as an “opportunity for the Redevelopment Commission
not to TIF the area,” that is, not to designate the area a tax increment
financing district. “CEDIT was designed for economic development,” Whitten
said. “I know that’s been bastardized downstate. But I’m old school and feel
like it should be used for economic development. And this fits into economic
Graham voted nay—again—on the ground that voting for the partnership
would set a precedent. “Every city and town would be here with their
favorite project,” she said.
Polarek also voted nay—again—because, he said, the county’s CEDIT
moneys are meant to be “used for unincorporated folks.” Or as Polarek put
it, “Why should the county’s CEDIT dollars go to a municipality?”
Evans did extract something of a pledge from the County Council: “I want the
council to promise it will re-allocate, because I don’t want some contractor
to hang because the fund has been depleted,” he said. “I just want your word
that you won’t hang me out to dry. Because I’ll send (those contractors) to
“I’ll give you my word, if (this) depletes that (account) to such a point
that you can’t address things that need immediate attention, then yes, come
before us,” Biggs replied to Evans.
The meeting went around 80 minutes, long enough for nearly everybody to get
in—again, one last time—his or her two cents’ worth.
Whitten spent some of that time probing the views of the two chief
antagonists: the Town of Chesterton and the Damon Run Conservancy District.
He began with the former. Would the project ultimately lead to forced
Chesterton Town Council Member Sharon Darnell, D-4th, was adamant that it
would not. “Forced annexation is not part of this,” she said. “We don’t even
touch these properties. They have no contiguity with the town.”
“We’re not trying to take anything away from the City of Portage”—whose
wastewater treatment plant has allocated capacity to Damon Run—added
Chesterton Town Council Member Jeff Trout. “We’re just trying to help the
county be prepared.”
Whitten then invited comments from the Damon Run reps and Jack Barkow, chair
of the district, read a prepared statement. He repeated statements which
he’s made in the past—namely, that the Town of Chesterton “has spread
disinformation” about the district and “cast the district in a negative
light.” He reasserted that the district has the capacity to serve
“considerable numbers of new customers.” And he said that the partnership in
question “would limit the district’s ability to grow” and that “it’s in the
best interests of our customers to serve this development area.”
Why, Barkow wondered, would the county even consider paying for the upsize
on spec, when there’s no guarantee that the unincorporated area along Ind.
49 is ever going to see any development. “Our customers want to know why
‘we’re giving up an area of growth’ that could reduce their taxes,” he said.
“Stop bashing the district,” Barkow concluded his statement. “It does no
good to the district, no good to Chesterton, no good to the county.”
There was one question in particular which Whitten wanted answered: why
didn’t the Damon Run Conservancy District annex its biggest customer, the
new Porter hospital, when doing so would have significantly increased the
district’s assessed value and—potentially—could have helped reduce
Or as Whitten expressed his befuddlement, “I don’t understand the
negotiations with the hospital. You didn’t annex this? I don’t get that at
Bill Ferngren, attorney for the Damon Run Conservancy District, replied that
the policy is to annex the district’s customers. Except in the case of the
new hospital. Except in the case of Liberty Elementary and Intermediate
“Wouldn’t it have been better for the homeowners” in the district if the
hospital had been annexed? Whitten pressed.
The hospital, Ferngren finally allowed, just didn’t want to be annexed.
Instead, the hospital pays “a fee similar to a tax,” equivalent to what 145
single-family homes in the district pay. “Those dollars are pulled in and
pooled with the tax dollars,” he said.
Meanwhile, Liberty Township Trustee Ed Seykowski also objected to the
partnership. “It makes sense for us to plan our own community, not some
county bureaucrat,” he said. “We have an excellent fire department. We’ve
got some high-end homes. We don’t want it to turn into Merrillville. We feel
Damon Run can handle the capacity.”
One last person to speak: Bill Hanna, executive director of the Northwest
Indiana Regional Development Authority. Hanna voiced support for the
partnership, saying that “we recognize it to be very important for job
creation and economic development,” and while in no way committing the RDA
to investment in the Ind. 49 utility corridor, did say that “there may be a
role for the RDA to play.”
“But we’ll need more information,” Hanna said.
The Chesterton Redevelopment Commission will meet at 12 p.m. Thursday, Aug.
2, for the purpose of awarding the contract for the Ind. 49 utility corridor