Chesterton Tribune



Porter council hopes to trim or eliminate fee hike for 2014

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Porter residents who pay a trash-collection user fee may not see as much of an increase in 2014 as originally thought, if at all.

Speaking Tuesday, financial consultant Eric Walsh of H.J. Umbaugh & Associates said he’s trying to determine why there’s a projected $40,000 shortfall in the needed $340,000 trash-fee revenue.

If there are billing errors and the collections can be spread across a wider base, the approximately $2 increase on monthly bills could be reduced or eliminated, said Walsh.

His comments came during a public hearing on the proposed $3.79 million total budget, a decrease of 6 percent or $249,096 from this year’s. Several changes discussed at a Sept. 17 budget workshop have been incorporated to bring 2014 finances more in line.

Resident Terry Gault asked about the possible trash-fee hike. Council president Elka Nelson said, “We’re not married to that $40,000 but we have to put it in our budget for next year.”

Resident Nikki Crist asked about the impact on town finances because of reductions in assessed valuations. Nelson said that doesn’t necessarily mean tax collections will go down, but there’s concern that a continual decline will eventually catch up with the town.

Nelson said rather than apply across-the-board percentage increases when budgeting, this time goals and needs were listed, essential services set and requests had to be justified. The final 2014 budget will be adopted Oct. 8 and forwarded to state tax officials for approval.

A comprehensive plan is being developed to get and keep the town on better financial footing.

Part of the problem is not accumulating cash balances for an operating cushion. Voting unanimously the council approved a $400,000 temporary loan from the rainy day fund to the general fund and an additional $25,000 to the park fund. The money will be repaid no later than Dec. 31 after the final 2013 property-tax distribution is received.

Meter size being studied

Nelson said the council is looking at different options to find an equitable and fair solution for sewer billing based on residential meter size.

Sept. 5 residents who had received letters from the town saying they each owed approximately $1,300 in back sewer billings claimed it’s unfair to charge them more for having a 1-inch water meter at their home. The standard residential meter size described in town code is 5/8 or 3/4 inch. Porter’s sewer billing is based on water usage.

Nelson said the prior decision not to pursue the money at this time still stands while the council finds a way so residential households are treated the same and the overdue charges are dealt with fairly.

It was announced Tuesday that volunteers are being sought for the Oct. 5 Porter’s Perfect Pint brewfest at Hawthorne Park. Donations of silent-auction items also are needed. The festival is a fundraiser for the Porter Park and Fire departments.

Dunes Country promoted

The meeting included a presentation by Porter County Tourism executive director Lorelei Weimer, who explained the benefits of participation as a member of the seven-county Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission.

NITDC has 350 private-sector business partners who share the commission’s goal of increasing the economic vitality of northern Indiana, in large part boosted by the 80 million vehicles annually that use the Indiana Toll Road and its 10 travel plazas.

Dunes Country is among the attractions featured through shared NITDC promotions like a $30,000 full-page ad in Midwest Living Magazine. “The leveraging we’ve done is phenomenal,” said Weimer.

Food is a huge issue today, she noted, explaining how a “foodie trail” can generate renewed interest. Locally, the Octave Grill, Third Coast Spice Cafe, Lucrezia and Wagner’s Ribs have been featured in a Midwest culinary tour. Porter councilman David Wodrich owns Third Coast.

NITDC cross promotion, whether a shared website structure or tourism research, benefits all members, Weimer said.

She noted NITDC continues to defy the odds after its creation in 1991. “Forming it would have been hard. Maintaining it over all these years is amazing. Porter County has gained significantly from this partnership.”

Under council comments Nelson congratulated local author Heather Augustyn on the recent publication of her biography of ska musician Don Drummond.



Posted 9/26/2013