Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Porter Town Council agrees to fund portion of major sewer upgrade

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Porter Town Council reached a general consensus Tuesday that it will find some way to finance $1.4 million of the $4.1 million in planned sanitary-sewer upgrades.

The Porter Redevelopment Commission preliminarily has indicated it will pay for $2.6 million and possibly even more.

Last night, Porter town attorney Patrick Lyp said he and financial consultant Karl Cender need to know the council is committed to the project so work can begin on a bond issue to raise the money needed.

The town has little choice because it is under an agreed order with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to upgrade the aged collection system or face fines and sanctions.

“We have to do it,” said Councilman Jon Granat.

Lyp said it would save on bond-issuance costs and professional fees to have one bond issue for the entire amount needed, likely sold by the Redevelopment Commission, but the Town Council would have to indicate how it would fund its share of the bond sale.

A hike in sewer rates, pledging Porter’s future CEDIT revenue from the Porter County income tax or a combination of both has been discussed.

Councilman Dave Babcock asked if the Redevelopment Commission can throw any more money into the pot.

Lyp said the commission’s spending is somewhat limited because it designates certain tax-increment financing or TIF districts within which it captures a percentage of property taxes annually; TIF spending has to occur within those districts or benefit them.

Lyp said it’s being determined whether some of the sewer projects outside the TIF districts would qualify as benefiting them.

Councilman Dave Babcock said fixing the antiquated sewers is the most important thing right now, even though the Redevelopment Commission has a number of other projects on its plate, and every bit of money it can contribute is needed.

“I don’t think (the commission) is in any way holding back,” said Bollinger. Babcock questioned whether the commission could pledge part of its annual TIF revenue for sewer upgrades and not have to issue bonds at all. “We can’t cripple the Redevelopment Commission for 10 years,” replied Bollinger.

She said at this point all that is needed is a commitment that what the commission doesn’t pick up, the council will. Vote was 3-0 to do so with council members Micheal Genger and Todd Martin absent.

Stormwater fee headed up?

If the Town Council had to fund the $4.1 million from sewer customers alone, rates would go up an estimated 59 percent. While that isn’t likely to occur, some percentage of rate increase is anticipated. Now it appears a hike in the town’s $4 monthly stormwater fee also could take place at the same time.

Porter Stormwater Management Board president Bill Cantrell presented the fee-hike request under public comments Tuesday.

He said the town has to pay for unfunded mandates tied to the federal MS4 stormwater-protection program. When Porter’s $4 fee was implemented in 2005, Cantrell said it was expected to raise about $250,000 annually but it’s only generating half that amount, hurting the board’s ability to tackle drainage/flooding problems.

“If we go at the rate we’re going, doing one little project at a time, it will take 15 years to get this done,” said Cantrell.

The stormwater that seeps into Porter sanitary sewers increases the town’s treatment costs at Chesterton’s plant, Cantrell noted, so getting the stormwater out of the sewers will save Porter money.

He also said an $8 monthly fee is not out of line with other stormwater jurisdictions in the state. Chesterton’s base residential fee is $6.10 per month; Burns Harbor does not yet come under MS4 mandates.

If Porter’s council wishes, said Cantrell, it could authorize a $2 increase in each of 2010 and 2011 or find another way for the Stormwater Board to carry out its mission.

That board voted 2-1 in April to recommend doubling the current fee. In a letter to the council Cantrell stated, “When you have a civic duty to perform and make a decision to take a course of action, you must balance the cause and efffect on the citizens of the town and vote on the side of the greater good.”

Bollinger said the stormwater fees can be looked at when the sanitary-sewer rates are reviewed. She also commended the Stormwater Board for not taking a band-aid approach to fixing flooding.

It was the council’s campaign pledge to upgrade the town’s infrastructure, said Bollinger. “We’re ready to take the bull by the horns and dump a huge amount of money into the town.”

INDU chief updates council

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore superintendent Constantine Dillon said money has been authorized to extend a waterline through Porter to the Goodfellow Camp, which Bollinger said will enable residents along the route to tap on. It’s hoped work can begin on the project this fall.

He also commended the council for its progressive stance in being the lead agency on a $30 million Gateway to the Dunes initiative that recognizes the value of tourism and the money it brings to this area.

Dillon said preliminary results of a survey of lakeshore visitors to be released next month shows 73 percent of respondents came here just to visit INDU, 43 percent making a first-time visit and 60 percent not from Indiana.

INDU is working with the new Northwest Indiana Paddling Association, said Dillon, whose ranks have swelled to 300 members. In an approximately 5-mile stretch of the Little Calumet River from U.S. 20 to Indiana 149, about 53 obstructions have been found so clearing them will be an undertaking, he added.

The superintendent said INDU’s former Fall Festival is being repackaged as Duneland Heritage Days Sept. 18 and 19. Dillon said he’d like to see the Bailly/Chellberg area become a destination for festival events, and options are being explored.

In other council business Tuesday:

•Residents Jennifer Klug and Rita Newman questioned the council regarding grants for a new fire station and for Police/Public Works vehicles. Bollinger assured them, “We are on top of grants. We’re constantly on top of grants. We’re doing everything we can to bring money into town.”

•Newman said the Friends of Porter Sesquicentennial Committee has disbanded and gave its leftover $865 to the Porter Police Department’s Shop with a Cop program so the money can be returned to the community.

•Town attorney Patrick Lyp recommended the council not pay $1,900 Indiana Workforce Development is seeking as reimbursement for money it paid to a Porter town employee who was let go last summer, appealed and the discharge was upheld.

•Police chief James Spanier was given permission to hire part-time radio dispatchers as needed following the loss of four as well as 15-year employee Mary Lane, who has resigned and was thanked for her service. Lane’s replacement will be a temporary contract hire.

•Town director of engineering Matt Keiser said a rain-barrel program last night at Hawthorne Park sponsored in cooperation with the Porter County Recycling and Waste Reduction District was a success. “It was packed.”

•Repaving portions of Oak Hill and Waverly roads is basically done and all work should be completed by the end of the month, he added.

•Porter Park superintendent Jim Miller said with the Westchester Neighbors Food Pantry having moved out of the Hawthorne community center basement and the Senior Center having disbanded there, the Park Board is looking at how to use the reclaimed space.

 

Posted 4/12/2010

 

 

 

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