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2014 Burns Harbor budget sparks interest in annexing NIPSCO Bailly station

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Talk of Burns Harbor’s 2014 budget took an unexpected turn Wednesday when the Town Council directed its attorney to research possible annexation of the Bailly Generating Station.

The NIPSCO-owned, coal-fired power plant, noticeable from a far distance because of its tall air-purification tower, is located east of ArcelorMittal Steel in unincorporated Porter County.

Councilman Mike Perrine said the town is growing but its revenue is virtually frozen despite population growth from several subdivisions. He suggested annexing Bailly, as well as asking state tax officials for permission to increase revenue by allowing an excess levy collection.

Associate town attorney Chuck Parkinson said his firm will have an annexation report completed prior to the next meeting.

The council set a special 2014 budget workshop for July 29 at 6:30 p.m. to review proposed expenses that could justify an excess-levy appeal. Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said state tax officials have indicated revenue can increase by 2.6 percent over 2013 next year, but town insurance is projected to increase by 10 percent and PERF, an employee retirement fund, also will jump.

After Wednesday’s session council president Jim McGee confirmed he’s been told that under current state law, a hostile annexation when the property owner doesn’t want to be annexed is harder to accomplish than in years past.

A NIPSCO spokesperson was unavailable for comment Thursday.

In 1985 NIPSCO and the Town of Porter negotiated an agreement where the utility would make annual payments in return for fire/police protection and snow removal, but the general perception long has been it’s a payment for Porter not annexing the Bailly plant.

Porter clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy said the current payment is $150,000 a year and the contract renews automatically; $10,000 of that amount goes to the Porter Park Department.

Pomeroy said Porter relies on the $150,000 payment and it would be missed if Burns Harbor annexed the plant.

In other Burns Harbor business Wednesday, the council agreed to set an executive session for negotiation strategy to consider the proposal of American Tower to extend its lease for an existing cellular communications tower on town property. The current lease has options to extend through 2019 but AT wants to tie up the land for 50 more years.

Dan Botich of town financial consultant Cender & Company said AT is offering a $25,000 signing bonus and $9,000 a year annually for the extension. A question had arisen how much the locked-in annual payment would drop in value in future years.

Botich said AT is anxious to tie up the land to assure carriers co-located on the tower now it will remain there. A second lease proposal was received but Botich said its terms were not as favorable.

Also Wednesday:

*  Botich provided an analysis of the feasibility of paying off the 2005 sewer bonds early to save interest and free up funds for other projects. The study was taken under advisement.

*  By unanimous motion the council approved spending up to $1,000 to cover any shortfall tied to the town picnic Aug. 25 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Lakeland Park. Donations are being solicited from local businesses as well. Volunteers are needed to serve on the picnic committee.

*  The council also voted 5-0 to allow up to $300 for postage and advertising for the town-wide rummage sale, tentatively set for Aug. 9 and 10. Chairperson Jennifer Canfield said last year 22 households participated and more are needed this year. Maps are provided.

*  Jordan said the mosquitoes are fierce in parts of town and a fogging was done Wednesday night.

*  Police chief Mike Heckman reported 452 incidents were handled in June including nine vehicle crashes (six resulting in property damage and three personal injury), 11 arrests (one felony, 10 misdemeanors), 87 tickets written, and 96 verbal and 34 warning tickets issued.

*  Street superintendent Randy Skalku said two sink holes at storm sewer manholes were repaired on Stanley Street and Old Porter Road.

*  Park director Kim Burton said another session of children’s day camp and art camp begins Monday at Lakeland Park, where the arts & crafts building is available for rental.

 

Posted 7/12/2013