Chesterton Tribune

Burns Harbor budget still feels effects of Bethlehem Steel bankruptcy a decade later

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Rather than shift the majority of property taxes onto Burns Harbor residents when Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001, that Town Council dramatically slashed its budget to collect less money.

But since Indiana tax officials only allow an annual percentage increase based on the previous year’s budget, town officials say they’ve never climbed out of the hole that was created a decade ago.

At a workshop Thursday, the Town Council voted 5-0 to seek to generate more cash for needed expenses by increasing to the maximum 5 cents the rate for the cumulative capital development fund. The town’s current CCDF rate is just over one-half cent raising $29,805 of annual revenue.

The Town Council will conduct a public hearing, decide the length of time the 5-cent rate would be applicable, and forward its request to the Department of Local Government Finance by Aug. 1. A remonstrance period would follow, after which DLGF will issue an order approving, disapproving or modifying the cumulative fund rate sought.

The council is likely to take up the matter at its April 11 meeting.

Councilman Greg Miller said the CCDF has been underutilized as a way to raise cash, and that Burns Harbor’s rate is the second lowest for a city or town in Porter County. Councilman Jeff Freeze said it’s well below the CCDF rate imposed by Chesterton and Porter.

Miller said the impact to the average Burns Harbor residential taxpayer will be minimal with industry paying the lion’s share of the CCDF increase. He noted that fund has the most flexibility and its revenue can be spent for any legal purpose so the extra money can be applied where needed.

Council member Mike Perrine said, “You drive around this town and you have roads becoming impassable. If we don’t find some money, things won’t get any better.”

The Burns Harbor municipal property tax rate is 31.92 cents this year. Perrine said taxpayers have been getting a break since they saw an approximately 66 percent decrease in their tax rate 11 years ago.

At that time, “We had a great deal of money in town, things were booming and everything was good,” Perrine explained, but the Bethlehem bankruptcy changed everything under Indiana’s frozen levy.

Perrine said he didn’t think increasing to the 5-cent CCDF rate would be an undue hardship on taxpayers. Miller said the council can change the rate in the future if it becomes necessary.

In other business at the workshop, the council discussed a proposed 2012 salary ordinance and agreed to give full-time employees a 4 percent raise. The ordinance must be formally adopted.

Council members also unanimously authorized town attorney Bob Welsh to bring to Porter Superior Court Judge David Chidester’s attention allegations of additional violations of town code.

Late last year at the town’s request Chidester issued an injunction barring William Scott dba Scott’s Way from operating a truck terminal and dispatch operation at 277 Melton Rd., or in any other way violating the town’s zoning ordinance. Chidester imposed a $1,000 per-day fine if Scott didn’t cease illegal trucking operations after Dec. 19, 2011.

A $5 fine also would be assessed after that date for each day of violation of the sign ordinance.

Prior to Thursday’s workshop, the Town Council met with Welsh in closed executive session to discuss litigation.

Posted 2/27/2012