Chesterton Tribune



New ambulance provider in Burns Harbor; council fears loss of business tax money

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Effective tomorrow, a Porter Regional Hospital ambulance will be based out of the Burns Harbor fire station and begin responding to emergency medical calls in town.

Porter Hospital will lease a portion of the station and pay associated costs for its advanced-life-support ambulance and employees to operate there around the clock, seven days a week.

The move means the Fire Department’s 14-month operation of its own ALS ambulance ends; the required 24-hour paramedic staffing drove the cost up and became a drain on town finances. The Fire Department will continue to use its modified ALS ambulance to respond to basic-life-support calls not requiring specialized medical care.

The Town Council voted 4-0 to authorize Porter to operate out of the fire station effective Feb. 1, but a contract for the partnership hasn’t been finalized. A timetable to execute one is in Porter Hospital’s hands, said councilman Mike Perrine.

Councilman Jeff Freeze said he agrees with the move, as long as Porter won’t walk away from the arrangement soon after beginning it.

Perrine said it makes financial sense for Porter to relocate one of its ALS rigs now based at the hospital’s Chesterton ambulance station; earlier this year the Town of Chesterton entered into a contract with Superior Ambulance to respond to calls there.

Although local contractual agreements are in place, a mutual aid pact between Porter County’s emergency services provides back-up when needed if equipment and personnel are available.

In other business at Thursday’s special meeting, with forecasts for a new snowstorm on the way the council voted 4-0 with member Greg Miller absent to purchase an International 2014 snow plow truck for $92,650 from Lindco Equipment Sales of Merrillville.

Lindco’s was deemed the best bid of three submitted because the truck is fully equipped with a snow plow, LED strobes, salt box and tailgate spreader; the truck is ready to deliver to the Street Department.

Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said the town can pay cash for the truck or finance it. She described two proposals for bank financing and the council opted to go with LaPorte Savings Bank over five years at 2.99 percent interest for 60 months as long as early repayment is allowed.

Council members said even if they can afford to buy the truck outright, it’s advisable to finance it in light of the Indiana General Assembly’s move to enact big tax cuts for Hoosier business.

Both Republican-controlled chambers approved such reductions Thursday, although additional votes are needed. Said Freeze, “If the (business ) tax makes it through, it will be devastating to anyone with significant business property tax in their town. It will be a killer.”

Especially Burns Harbor.

Jordan said 64 percent of the town’s revenue comes from business personal property taxes so it would hit the town as hard as when Indiana imposed a frozen levy to cap tax collections for local governments. Burns Harbor could still tax to support its budget, said Jordan, but the rate would have to climb dramatically yet a state circuit-breaker limit curbs how much can be collected on each class of property.

Council president Jim McGee said Burns Harbor also survived the Bethlehem Steel bankruptcy, which slashed its tax revenue by more than two-thirds. Now business tax cuts are looming. “We’ve had everything thrown at us as a town.”

Also Thursday, Freeze said the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission is helping member cities and towns who are low on road salt to find more, and talks are underway to have Rieth-Riley open an asphalt plant so potholes can be filled with hot-patch because cold-patch is not working on potholes.

The council announced it would consider hiring a police officer at next month’s rescheduled Feb. 5 meeting.



Posted 1/31/2014