Chesterton Tribune



Burns Harbor council eyes Westport site for Pop Warner partnership

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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 next spring.

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 club.

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 11 dependents.

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 employee input.

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 year.



Posted 4/18/2013