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Burns Harbor mulls tax funded subsidy for Frontier high speed internet lines

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Burns Harbor Redevelopment Commission voted Monday to offer Frontier Communications a subsidy to help bring high-speed internet service to areas of town that don’t now have it.

The RDC approved a non-binding letter of intent, subject to legal review of a future contract, that outlines plans to help subsidize needed equipment for the work up to perhaps 25 percent of its cost not to exceed $15,000. The amount could be increased later.

The money would be payable in early 2014 subject to Frontier completing its infrastructure improvements by Dec. 31, 2013.

RDC member Jeff Freeze said unless a business or residence wants to pay for a special line, Comcast is the only high-speed internet provider in town. While a government entity can’t favor one carrier over another, he noted, Frontier expansion would provide the town with options and competitive pricing.

RDC president Greg Miller said helping pay for the internet equipment is a legitimate RDC expense because it encourages Frontier to make investment here and will be an attractive plus for business and residential development.

RDC attorney Charles Parkinson said he’d like to spell out the town’s rights regarding the equipment, and wants to see if Frontier has entered into similar arrangements with other municipalities.

Members Gene Weibl and Freeze said it would be good to explore whether the town could receive compensation at some point after new customers connect.

More projects than money

The RDC reviewed a nearly $60 million capital projects list drafted several years ago.

Based on prior ranking for economic-development impact, Miller proposed as a first priority allowing $1 million for unspecified land acquisition. He later said the RDC may meet in closed executive session to discuss those options. A related $770,000 pricetag also was listed, possibly for land acquisition of the former Standard Plaza truck stop on U.S. 20. The town paid for the building’s demolition and a lien for the work has been paid back.

Additional prioritized projects were a $10 million sidewalk and trail system; $10 million for streetlights for a new downtown and trail system; $10 million for road improvements; $60,000 for a marquee sign and $100,000 for monument signs to promote attractions; $100,000 for river recreation and kayak rental; and $30,000 to pave the parking lot used by fishermen at the Little Calumet River.

Removed from the list was $1 million for a train station with parking lot. Freeze said he’s been told there’s no way a station would be approved in Burns Harbor.

Portage officials have asked that the South Shore Railroad expand its stop on U.S. 12 there with a station but the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District has declined to make the investment.

Miller said some of the RDC’s capital projects will attract development and some will be a consequence of that. “We’re looking for a snowball effect.”

Weibl and RDC member Jim McGee said the commission doesn’t know what the Town Council will decide about using funds to upgrade the former Westport Community Center, which was donated to the town. The capital list earmarked $300,000 for Westport improvements but it wasn’t listed as a priority.

All five RDC members also sit on the Town Council. Last night commission/council member Mike Perrine was absent.

By law a non-voting member of the RDC is appointed by the Duneland School Board. Ralph Ayres is Duneland’s representative to Burns Harbor.

Getting from here to there

Whatever projects the RDC undertakes, Freeze said a key part of future planning will be the financial model the commission uses --- whether funding them itself, using a bond issue or a combination of both --- to accomplish its goals.

The RDC hadn’t been meeting because its approximately $600,000 annual revenue from property taxes was dedicated to paying off sewer bonds, which recently were retired. With spendable income again, plans now are being made.

Miller suggested developing a strategic plan to implement goals and projects outlined in the town’s approved comprehensive plan. Ayres said Duneland has a three-year plan that’s developed by school administration in house.

Miller said the Town Council will have to consider appointing interested, capable residents to the RDC whose expertise will assist the commission in its work without the need to hire outside consultants, which the RDC typically does.

Also Monday, Miller said it’s been determined that expanding the town’s TIF district to include the Traditions apartment complex, now about 80 units with more planned, is legal and possible, but the RDC is waiting for a feasibility study from a financial consultant before proceeding further.

The Sept. 30 RDC meeting was its first in 16 months. Last night the commission decided it probably won’t meet until January unless the need arises, at which time the RDC will begin meeting regularly.

 

 

Posted 10/29/2013