Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Speeding drivers prompt safety concerns in Burns Harbor

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With member Louis Bain absent, the remaining four Burns Harbor Town Council members disagreed whether to change speed limits on some major town roads.

An extended discussion resulted in no action regarding town marshal Jerry Price’s suggestion that all streets in subdivisions including Stanley, Castle and Coan be posted 15 mph; that the speed limit for Haglund Road be reduced from 30 mph to 25 mph; and that of Old Porter Road be increased from 30 mph to 35 mph.

Council members Toni Biancardi and Cliff Fleming questioned the latter, while Councilman Mike Perrine said Old Porter is a thoroughfare between Portage and Chesterton with no shoulders or berms making it not ideal for pedestrian or bicycle traffic. Resident Clark Hamilton said he supported a speed reduction for that reason.

Most vehicles on Old Porter now exceed the 30 mph limit. Having it posted 25 mph would give police clear reason to stop speeders, said Fleming. “I’m more concerned about safety than someone driving too damn fast.” The matter eventually was tabled for more research. “I know we won’t get a consensus tonight,” said council president Jim McGee.

There was disagreement between Price and associate town attorney Charles Parkinson whether the town could collect money from tickets written for excessive speed on town roads short of having a town court. The feasibility of setting up a town Violations Bureau where some Burns Harbor tickets could be paid locally briefly was discussed.

Perrine, a former policeman, said Old Porter Road is not a residential street with children present and it’s not worth it to have police ticket a motorist and potentially have them lose their license over 5 mph. “Stringently enforce the speed limit that is.”

Phyllis Constantine, who lives on Haglund Road, said a speed reduction there is warranted to protect neighborhood children, especially in the summer when non-residents don’t always exercise caution on their way to Lakeland Park. Hamilton, as president of the Burns Harbor Park Board, clarified that Lakeland Drive in the park is in fact a town road.

Last month Burns Harbor police issued 108 tickets, 49 warning tickets and gave 67 verbal warnings. There were nine arrests, six of them misdemeanors and three for felonies. Nine accidents occurred, all property damage with no injuries. Department vehicles traveled 8,995 miles.

On another matter, the Town Council voted 4-0 to adopt a $400 user fee and 12 cents per mile for each transport the Burns Harbor Fire Department performs using its basic-life-support ambulance. The charge will replenish supplies and equipment, and the policy approved will provide for hardship cases and write-offs. The fee will be charged only for transport; there will be no cost for medical attention given at the scene.

Fire chief Bill Arney said the town only will transport in the case of a life-threatening illness or injury if a Porter Hospital emergency ambulance is delayed, which has occurred. Commented Perrine, “We don’t want to see somebody wait in their driveway 45 minutes and expire.” The Fire Department has a medical director to supervise its ambulance transports, and establishing the user fee was the last step toward certification and authorization to begin.

In January the Fire Department responded to 17 calls spending 17 hours 43 minutes on-scene for emergencies. Four calls were assists to emergency medical services; three to vehicle accidents; four mutual aid to Portage; one each mutual aid to Union Township, a water rescue and structure fire; and three hazmat calls. Arney said 55 firefighters were involved in 115 training hours over five nights and 10 firefighters totaled 20 duty hours. Department vehicles traveled 1,036 miles last month.

AV increase questioned

Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan was authorized to work with an outside financial consultant if necessary to determine why the state’s 2010 budget notice is based on a $103 million increase in Burns Harbor’s assessed valuation. That drove down the town tax rate to 29.3 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation or a decrease of 8 cents.

“Twenty percent of our AV? That’s a huge percentage,” said Jordan of the $103 million jump, which she described as a red flag that the town’s grown that quickly when development and property values have been stagnant. Building permits only totaled $12 million last year, she added.

Jordan is working with officials at ArcelorMittal Steel, the town’s largest taxpayer, to determine if the increase is being attributed there. Mittal has tax abatement but that shouldn’t drive up the AV by $103 million, said Jordan. Her concern is if the property owners involved appeal the AV hike and win, that would affect the town budget and potentially result in a tax shortfall.

Mittal was thanked by Arney earlier in the meeting for its $9,000 grant that allowed the Fire Department to purchase a like-new demonstrator extrication pump with rescue tools still under warranty.

In another matter, McGee named as his presidential appointment Republican Jan Hines to the Advisory Plan Commission to complete the unexpired term of Jim Meeks, who resigned. A three-year resident, Hines is an elementary school principal in St. John. She attended the Feb. 1 commission meeting and was introduced to its members.

On a 4-0 vote the council approved Fleming’s motion to hire Tyler DeMar as part-time secretary of the Plan Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Sanitation Board. Fleming said five final applicants, all impressive, were interviewed but he wanted to give the job to a Burns Harbor resident, and because DeMar knows how the town works and he intends to go to law school. Three of the finalists were residents.

DeMar had volunteered to serve temporarily as Plan/BZA secretary prior to one being named, and he participated at several meetings last year during drafting of a new Burns Harbor comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. DeMar works for Tara Development, the real estate broker that sells homes in Fleming’s The Village in Burns Harbor subdivision. DeMar has accompanied and represented Fleming at Chesterton Advisory Plan Commission meetings.

Redistricting coming?

The Town Council briefly discussed the current districts from which council members are elected. Burns Harbor has three wards and two at-large seats; voters elect all five members, not just those in their respective wards.

Jordan said federal census forms should be received by mid-March and the town needs to designate a census station apart from the town hall because the police station is located there contrary to census guidelines. She said she plans to go door-to-door encouraging residents to return their completed forms by the April 1 deadline.

As for the make-up of each current ward, “It’s not evenly distributed and we don’t need a census to determine that,” said Jordan. She said Ward 1 has 99 homes, Ward 2 has 111 homes and Ward 3 has 279 homes. The town’s population was estimated to be 1,100 residents in 2008 compared to 766 in 2000.

In other business Wednesday:

•Tim Stewart of LaPorte submitted the winning $1,501 sealed bid, the highest of nine received for the town’s surplus 1982 Dodge pick-up. The lowest bid was $350. The truck was decommissioned and sold to Stewart unanimously. The money will be used to purchase a new plow blade for the Street Department. Superintendent Randy Skalku said he had hoped to turn his attention to spring projects but he’s been plowing snow most of the time. Perrine said a more weatherproof shelter to better store the town’s salt and cinders is on a proposed list of capital improvement projects as well as a four-bay addition to the Fire Department and a structure for town employees to do confined-space training.

•It was announced long-awaited demolition of the derelict Standard Plaza truck stop on U.S. 20 could begin next week; the town is paying for the work but a lein will be filed against the property when the final demolition cost is known. Also, Arney and Parkinson reported there has been some progress on the owner addressing outstanding work and sewer delinquencies at Rainbow Trailer Park.

•Hamilton said Dwayne Simons, who last year won Plan Commission approval for a minor subdivision splitting one residential lot at 306 McCoy Lane into two parcels, has agreed to give the Park Board $500. Hamilton also said this spring a ceremony may be scheduled to dedicate an aeration fountain to be installed in Harbor Lake at Lakeland Park; plans are being made so the fountain will be visible from Interstate 94.

•Council member Toni Biancardi requested and was granted permission to pursue upgrading the existing town telephone system by installing a new computer chip instead of replacing the entire network for an estimated $6,000.

•McGee and others commended town police officer Mike Heckman for using his personal time and vehicle to plow snow for residents who needed the help.

Posted 2/11/2010




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