Chesterton Pop Warner football wants to joint venture with the Burns Harbor
Park Department to improve the Westport Community Club building and grounds
as a permanent home for the league.
But first, the Town Council has to decide whether it wants to take
possession of the disbanded community club’s property.
Although no vote was taken at a special meeting Tuesday, council members
indicated they’re interested in pursuing the acquisition and finding out
what financial obligations the town might incur.
The club wants to give the community building and adjacent land to the town,
but a tax liability may be attached. Town attorney Bob Welsh is researching
the matter and will report May 8.
Councilman Mike Perrine said whether or not Pop Warner might be involved in
Westport’s future use shouldn’t affect the council’s decision; he said the
acquired site should be administered by the Park Board and not become a town
hall, fire station or police department.
Council member Jeff Freeze said it would be a great opportunity to have a
youth sports league in town and he’d like to see a long-term lease agreement
pursued simultaneously with acquisition. Freeze said Pop Warner would make
improvements to the Westport building and grounds while the town may need to
address stormwater issues.
After the meeting, which he attended, Pop Warner president Tom Troy
confirmed league members and volunteers would use donations of materials and
labor, grants and fundraising to develop a football field, renovate the
building and expand parking.
“Pop Warner’s been around since the 1970s and never had a place to call our
own,” he explained. Troy said Pop Warner would want exclusive use of the
field --- other than for Park Department or community events --- but would
leave the Westport building available for other uses.
Pop Warner itself hopes to store equipment, conduct board meetings and
registrations, and have parties in the building. “There’s a lot of uses we
want,” according to Troy. He also said the league understands government can
move slowly so hopefully the renovated site could be ready for flag football
Troy said Pop Warner has been fortunate to use Duneland School Corp. grounds
for league play, and it may seek use of some DSC-owned land east of Westport
to expand parking there.
Councilman Gene Weibl supported the town taking the Westport donation and
welcomed future partnerships for its use. Council member Greg Miller said he
doesn’t want to commit taxpayer money at this point to renovate Westport,
but how much Pop Warner is willing to spend could be negotiated.
President Jim McGee stepped down from the council table and sat in the
audience as a Westport board member with Amy Arney, Leann Perrine and
Rosemary Zimmerman, all charged with negotiating a property transfer for the
Leann Perrine is also a town Park Board member.
The council briefly discussed how much input its board would have over
Westport use if the Park Department administers the site. Mike Perrine said
the council has ultimate control because it can disband the Park Board.
The council also makes appointments to that board.
From the audience, resident Gayle Van Loon asked how much money would be
added to the Park Department budget if the town accepts Westport. Mike
Perrine said that would be decided once the property changes hands.
In other business Tuesday, the council met with Anton Insurance employee
benefits specialist Leigh Westergren about the pending May 1 renewal of the
town’s Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield coverage, which proposes a 10 percent
premium increase to $15,249 per month. The policy covers nine employees and
Complicating the discussion were changes anticipated in 2014 tied to
implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act.
The question arose whether the town can continue to have employees
contribute only $1 per month toward their own health plan. Weibl agreed
drastic changes could be coming. Miller said the board needs time to
consider the options and make an informed decision, while Perrine called for
Westergren said Anthem is giving smaller groups the option of waiting to
renew by Dec. 1. Freeze said there could be some risk if a bad claims
experience pops up in the interim.
The council voted 5-0 to renew now with minimal plan amendments, and to
consult employees and develop alternate insurance strategies early next