Chesterton Tribune

Burns Harbor raises taxes, disbands economic development unit

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The Burns Harbor Town Council took three significant actions at Wednesday’s monthly meeting:

• Voted unanimously to increase from one-half cent to 5 cents the property tax rate for the cumulative capital development fund, a seven-fold increase.

• Tabled planned discussion regarding a proposed 10-year tax abatement extension for ArcelorMittal USA until the May 9 meeting.

• Disbanded the town’s Economic Development Commission with council member Mike Perrine dissenting.

Councilman Greg Miller said the CCDF rate increase translates to an additional tax burden of about $30 per year for a home valued at $100,000 to $150,000 and higher for a more expensive home. Mittal, the town’s largest taxpayer, will pay most of the increase.

If state tax officials approve the higher rate, the CCDF fund is anticipated to generate about $250,000 annually beginning with the 2013 tax bills through 2015. The half-cent rate raises $29,805.

As of Feburary, both Chesterton and Porter each had a CCDF rate of 4 cents or more, respectively. The maximum allowable rate is 5 cents.

During a public hearing last night, Burns Harbor resident Gayle Van Loon asked why the council wanted the 5-cent rate and what members will do with the additional money. Councilman Gene Weibl said the town has struggled financially since the 2001 Bethlehem bankruptcy and the additional revenue will be used for better services, road paving and new sidewalks.

Miller said his intent is to start implementing elements of the town’s new comprehensive plan, which calls for a pedestrian-friendly community, compatible business development and construction of a dedicated downtown.

Bob Poparad asked to comment after the public hearing was closed, asking would the new CCDF revenue be used for operating expenses?

Weibl said that’s not the plan, but Perrine said if CCDF money is spent on projects that otherwise would be paid for with general funds, the unspent money there is freed up for operating costs.

Regarding the Mittal tax abatement, which has been pending for eight months, council president Jim McGee announced as the meeting began that he was changing the agenda to table the request until May 9. After the meeting McGee said he “just moved it to May” for no specific reason.

Duneland School Board member Ralph Ayres was present Wednesday for the Mittal discussion but left the meeting when it was tabled; Dan Botich of town financial advisor Cender & Company also was in attendance.

When Mittal’s request for abatement initially was made last year, Duneland School Corp. opposed it on the grounds the schools would lose substantial revenue.

The Economic Development Commission discussion arose over an April 5 letter from the Porter County Council confirming it agreed to keep Bob Poparad as its 2012 appointment to the Burns Harbor EDC. Poparad was an EDC member and a former member of both the county and town councils.

The County Council previously chose Poparad, but the Town Council subsequently indicated it wanted to name Brad Enslen. Although state law requires the County Council to recommend one appointment, the final selection is up to the town.

McGee said he can’t remember when the EDC last met; Perrine said there is no reluctance to meet. When asked what it does, Botich said the EDC has the ability to arrange the issuance of lower-interest revenue bonds for private activity to assist existing or new businesses.

Miller asked if the town wants to dissolve the EDC and re-establish it later if needed; Welsh said there’s no legal requirement to keep it. Perrine asked why anyone would want to disband the board.

From the audience, Poparad said he’d resign if the objection is to his appointment. McGee said, “Everybody’s taken a lot of things wrong,” and Poparad doesn’t know it’s all about him. Vote to disband the EDC was 4-1 with Perrine opposed.

Naming a new trustee for the town’s own sewer bonds was delayed giving Welsh time to research UMB Bank’s request to delegate US Bank as the paying agent. Welsh said the proposed document UMB wants the town to approve is “a very skimpy little agreement that doesn’t tell us much,” and the town needs to protect the bond holders.

The town’s Redevelopment Commission must approve any trustee change so an RDC meeting was set for May 9 at 6:30 p.m. although a special meeting may be called earlier.

The meeting began with councilman Jeff Freeze moving to name McGee as president for the remainder of 2012. In January he was elected to serve for “the first quarter” of 2012. Freeze was reaffirmed as council vice-president. Votes on both motions were 5-0.


Posted 4/12/2012