Chesterton Tribune

Burns Harbor sewer fund has a big surplus; town mulls options

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Describing it like “a dragon on a nest of gold,” Burns Harbor Town Councilman Mike Perrine pitched several ways Wednesday to tap $750,000 in accumulated sanitary-sewer revenue for other town uses.

The town Redevelopment Commission has been discussing whether to designate the ArcelorMittal steel plant a new tax-increment financing or TIF district to capture more future property taxes there, alone or in combination with refinancing an outstanding $3 million in sewer bonds that will be retired in 2016.

Perrine said while he didn’t favor tiffing the entire Mittal mill, he wants to shift some of the town’s approximately $775,000 annual sewer-bond payment to the Sanitary Board.

Currently all the Redevelopment Commission’s $300,000 income goes to debt service and the nearly $475,000 bond balance is being covered by property taxes or cumulative funds.

Burns Harbor residents in single-family units generally pay $40.75 a month in sewer fees and larger users a multiple of that base fee. The town owns its own sewage treatment plant located at Mittal Steel.

Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said the council currently could but doesn’t have the Sanitary Board, comprised of council and citizen members, pay several sewer-related costs and salaries now offset by the general fund. She also said if both boards agree, the town could tax its own treatment plant, then have the sewer fund pay the bill.

The council asked Cender & Company of Merrillville, hired last night as the town’s new financial advisor, to research that possibility known as payment in lieu of taxes (PILT).

Dan Botich of Cender also was asked to prepare for the Sept. 21 Redevelopment Commission meeting a likely tax impact for Burns Harbor and overlapping taxing units if Mittal is placed in a TIF.

Perrine said PILT might be a way to funnel $100,000 or $200,000 into the general fund for deferred capital improvements, but Botich said PILT payments have to be based on a reasonable taxation formula.

Perrine said it’s not fair for the sewer fund to sit there getting fatter when the general fund, which finances basic town services, is strapped for cash. He noted the outstanding bond issue was for installation of a town-wide sewer system so sewer revenue rightfully should help pay for it.

Councilman Cliff Fleming cautioned that the sewer fund should be left with adequate reserves erring to the high side. Jordan said the fund has been used by the town to borrow operating money while awaiting late Porter County property-tax payments.

Perrine said if PILT is used and an unforseen sewer calamity would occur, sewer rates could be increased but the new sanitary system is well maintained.

With president Jim McGee voting, the council agreed 3-0 to authorize Cender to spend up to $1,700 for answers on the Mittal TIF and PILT. Council members Toni Biancardi and Louis Bain were absent.

In a related matter, former council member Myrtle Zehner suggested the town annex NIPSCO’s Bailly Generating Station if Burns Harbor needs more money.

Fleming said it’s been discussed over several months. Perrine said under Indiana’s frozen levy, town tax revenue couldn’t increase but the tax rate would decrease, however, that may not be enough of an incentive to create ill will with the town of Porter, which has received annual payments from NIPSCO for services provided rather than attempt annexation.

In other business during the almost two-hour meeting:

•The council agreed to remove from the agenda whether to redistrict town wards. Perrine, who initially asked an ordinance be prepared, said southernmost Ward 3, where several subdivisions are under construction, could be split in two. Fleming suggested waiting until the 2010 census results are posted next year. Burns Harbor has three wards and two at-large council seats.

•Deferred was action on town marshal Jerry Price’s request to begin allowing off-duty officers to take town squad cars home. Price also commended the Porter County Commissioners for taking preliminary action to ban synthetic marijuana, which he described as “some bad stuff".

•Price said in August the Police Department had 514 calls to service, responded to nine accidents (one a personal injury), made 17 arrests (all misdemeanors), wrote 102 tickets and 172 verbal or warning tickets.

•A proposed public-assembly ordinance based on the Town of Porter’s was referred to the Burns Harbor Advisory Plan Commission for comment. The commission meets Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.

•After a less-than-enthusiastic reaction, fire chief Bill Arney reconsidered his request that the Burns Harbor Volunteer Fire Dept. Inc., a separate entity, allow a contracted photographer to solicit door-to-door as a fire fundraiser.

•The council approved spending $787 so the Fire Department can receive $7,869 from the National Park Service for new pagers and portable radios. Last month firefighters spent 115 training hours, 86 volunteer hours on-call at the station, and responded on-scene for 16 hours 23 minutes at 25 calls.

•Tickets are available at the fire station for the department’s annual spaghetti dinner there Oct. 9 from 4-7 p.m. Tickets are $6, $7 for carry-out and children 3 and under eat free.

•It was announced that the Town Council will conduct a closed executive session Friday at 1 p.m. at the town hall to discuss litigation. A public hearing on the 2011 budget will be Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.

•Jordan said the Westchester Township History Museum in Chesterton is readying a fall exhibit on the history of Burns Harbor.



Posted 9/9/2010