Chesterton Tribune

Chesterton's growth prompts appeal for higher tax rate to raise $860,583 additional funds

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By KEVIN NEVERS

This fall the Town of Chesterton will file an excess levy appeal with the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) in the amount of $860,583.

And on the success of that appeal a great deal depends: not only whether municipal employees will receive a raise next year, but whether the town will be able to hire the new employees and purchase the new equipment required to provide services to the recently annexed areas on the extreme eastern and southern edges of Chesterton.

In fact it is the very cost of providing services to those annexed areas—the 65 acres south of the Indiana Toll Road and east of Ind. 49 being developed as Coffee Creek Crossing, and the 130 acres at the terminus of East Porter Ave. being developed as Sand Creek Farms—which, to the Town Council’s mind, is supposed to persuade the DLGF of the vital need of granting the excess levy appeal.

An excess levy is an amount, authorized by DLGF, over and above a municipality’s maximum property-tax levy under state law. Once DLGF grants an appeal, the excess levy becomes a permanent annual portion of a municipality’s total property-tax revenues, it goes into the same pot as those revenues, and thus counts against every yearly percentage increase of those revenues permitted by state law. A municipality generally bases an excess levy appeal on the cost of servicing newly annexed areas or a significantly increased population.

The Town Council expects that the build-out of both Coffee Creek Crossing and Sand Creek Farms will increase the total assessed valuation of Chesterton enough either to stabilize the municipal property-tax rate or even—perhaps—to lower it, so that the excess levy, if granted, will prove neither onerous nor obvious to the town’s property owners.

Chesterton’s luck with excess levy appeals has not been great, however, and the last time it sought one the appeal was initially granted in toto, only to be slashed later to 10 percent of the amount sought. This year the Town Council has high hopes, having contracted with H.J. Umbaugh & Associates to prepare and file the appeal.

At a special meeting of the Town Council on Wednesday, called to discuss the 2009 budget, Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Polakowski divided the $860,583 along these lines:

•Police would receive $216,000 for personnel and $20,789 for capital. Police Chief George Nelson said that he could probably hire three new officers with that amount.

•Fire would receive $275,000 for personnel and $38,405 for capital. Fire Chief Warren “Skip” Highwood said that he could hire five new firefighters with that amount.

•Street would receive $58,216 for personnel and $29,334 for capital. Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said that he could hire one new employee.

•Park would receive $144,000 for personnel and $7,161 for capital. Polakowski said that Superintendent Bruce Mathias—not in attendance on Wednesday—would likely hire two to three new employees.

•And Building would receive $69,000 for personnel and $2,678 for capital. Building Commissioner Mike Orlich said that he would hire one new full-time employee and one part-time.

Those plans are all contingent on DLGF’s granting the entirety of the excess levy appeal. One other thing is contingent on the DLGF’s action: any raises which municipal employees might receive in 2009. The Town Council agreed by consensus to discuss the subject following the outcome of the appeal.

Members did vote 5-0, though, to approve a longevity bonus of $125 per full year of service for every municipal employee. That amount represents an increase of $25 per full year over last year’s longevity bonus of $100. Polakowski said that the moneys should be available to defray the expense of bonuses from miscellaneous funds, like license and permit fees.

But Polakowski was unable to say how much the state will permit the town to increase last year’s levy. She’s guessing by 2 percent, which would represent an additional $150,000 or so. Of that amount, around $100,000 would go to the increased cost of health insurance and the remainder to the spiking cost of fuel, Polakowski said.

There will be no change in health insurance benefits for municipal employees.

Members did briefly discuss the possibility of granting each municipal employee one or two paid personal days next year, but opted not to do so when it became evident that some departments—like Police and Fire—would incur extra expense in overtime in order to cover the shift of an officer or firefighter who takes a personal day.

In other business, members voted 5-0 to instruct Associate Town Attorney Chuck Parkinson to draft an ordinance which would allow the Fire Department, per Indiana Code, to bill for some services in an effort to recoup a portion of the expense of responding to certain scenes.

 

Posted 7/24/2008