Chesterton Tribune


State OKs Burns Harbor capital fund tax hike

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Burns Harbor town officials have received a ruling from the Department of Local Government Finance approving the increase of its cumulative capital. development fund from just over half a cent to $.04 per $100 of assessed valuation.

DLGF Commissioner Brian Bailey mentioned in the ruling issued Oct. 9 that the agency approved the fund establishment because the town followed the proper conduct in its intended use of fund revenue.

The new rate will go on 2013’s property tax bills. CCDF collections would increase from $29,805 to a little more than $200,000. The money can be used for such purposes as street repairs, police vehicles, sidewalks, town equipment purchases and other infrastructure.

The Town Council proposed the fee earlier this year at five cents per $100 of AV which was rejected by the state because it exceeded the maximum limit the town could impose the first year.

An adjusted request of four cents was petitioned against by more than 50 taxpayers which required the DLGF to hold a public hearing on Sept. 21 at the Burns Harbor Town Hall where it heard both praise and remonstration.

Objectors asserted that the increase should have been put to a public vote, just like the Duneland Schools Referendum, and that the town is collecting more because of annexation, questioning why the town would need to raise the cumulative fund rate. More opposition was expressed in part because the town is also considering new fees for its garbage collection and fire hydrants. Remonstrators said that 39 percent of the Town is on a fixed income.

Proponents for the increase cited the need for the town to cover its annual operating costs since the town keeps on growing and services like EMS need funding.

Councilman Mike Perrine told the DLGF that Indiana only allows a small percentage for growth each year since 2003 when the state froze government tax levies two years after the town cut its budget to the core when Bethlehem Steel, which made up 85 percent of the tax base, went bankrupt. The town had to reduce the levy for the benefit of its residents, even if it meant that 90 percent of the town’s employees were laid off or made part time.

The town’s tax rate at $.32 per $100 AV is the lowest since 1993 and the tax increase would be about $27 per average household instead of $60 as stated by opponents.

After the hearing, DLGF staff attorney emailed Council members Perrine and Gene Weibl asking them to clarify the town’s intended use of fund money. Perrine said each year the Council has used CCDF money to offset costs that are not covered by the General Fund levy. He told the DLGF by e-mail “we would use these funds in any legal way to assist with the operations of our community.”

Weibl said taxes have been held low for a long time and the town needs to find more money somewhere if it wants to maintain its services.

Town Attorney Bob Welsh said the types of capital improvements the state law authorizes include acquiring land for the purpose of building and maintaining sidewalks, paving streets and to purchase police cars. He advised against using the funds for salaries since the law does not indicate it permissible.

Welsh’s letter to the DLGF identified a list of projects that would qualify for CCDF spending: West Port Drive ($70,000); Noise dampener for existing firing range ($50,000); Bypass pumps ($15,000); Pump station upgrade between 2 and 5 ($50,000); Ambulance ($100,000); Police vests and body armor ($10,000); Two police cars ($70,000); and Playground equipment and Shadyside Park ($100,000).

Welsh said if the CCDF is approved the town will review the list of projects and make a decision on which projects are the wisest to pursue.

In the final determination, Bailey said the town may not expend CCDF funds for any purpose other than what is authorized by the state.


Posted 10/19/2012