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BH Council OKs annexation analysis, mulls Westport use, police Tasers

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Burns Harbor Town Council on Wednesday authorized consultant Cender & Company to do a financial analysis related to the town’s possible annexation of NIPSCO’s Bailly generating station north of U.S. 12.

The annexation was mentioned this summer during preparation of the town’s 2014 budget. Last night, councilman Gene Weibl said since that time there have been friendly discussions between Burns Harbor and the utility.

After the meeting Weibl said the council realizes that, under current state law, an annexation likely couldn’t take place unless it would be favorable to NIPSCO so the company wouldn’t remonstrate.

The Cender study will look at NIPSCO’s potential tax impact as part of Burns Harbor instead of unincorporated Porter County, and how the annexation could be structured to be more palatable to NIPSCO.

Weibl said no annexation is impending at this time and even if none takes place, a dialogue has been opened with NIPSCO and the utility might agree to be a willing partner with the town on future projects.

In 1985 NIPSCO and the Town of Porter negotiated an agreement that has NIPSCO pay Porter an annual amount for police/fire protection and snow removal; this year the payment is $150,000. Weibl said the payment is a fee for services that could be provided by Burns Harbor if Bailly becomes part of the town.

Non-Taser use reviewed

Councilman Jeff Freeze said he wants to revisit the town’s current ban against Burns Harbor police officers using Tasers to subdue suspects.

A Taser is considered by some to be a non-lethal means of bringing about compliance through temporary neuromuscular incapacitation.

Freeze said Taser technology has evolved and Burns Harbor should look at situations where deadly force is not advisable yet police need another way to subdue someone. Town marshal Mike Heckman said July and August this summer were especially bad for his department, and twice in the last two weeks he had to physically fight with people who refused to go to jail.

A Taser won’t work in every case, he explained, but when an officer merely puts the red Taser aiming dot on someone they most often surrender, said Heckman. He added, “The worst fear I have is if you lose a fight, then he’s got my gun” and could turn it on a responding back-up officer.

Burns Harbor is the only Duneland-area department and possibly only the second in Porter County not to have authorized use of a Taser, according to the marshal. Freeze noted police carry guns, which certainly can be lethal.

Weibl expressed reservations. Tasers can be over-used, he said. “Some people come to rely on it too easily. A Taser’s just a Taser until it kills someone.”

Councilman Greg Miller said he thought using Tasers is a good idea and called for development of a new policy and specialized training for town officers. Freeze and council president Jim McGee asked about town liability and risk exposure.

Town attorney Bob Welsh said the question if a Taser were activated would be whether more force than needed was used in a situation so all officers would have to go through a certified Taser training program similar to what officers have to attend to carry a sidearm.

McGee asked Heckman to provide council members with a packet of Taser information for their consideration.

During his monthly report Heckman said Burns Harbor police handled 405 incidents in August resulting in 18 arrests, all for misdemeanors. There were four vehicle crashes, two each resulting in property damage and personal injury. Last month 132 tickets were written as well as 153 verbal/written warnings issued.

Redevelopment

Commission to meet

The town’s RDC, which hasn’t met all year, will convene a public meeting Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. at the town hall. The five council members and a representative from the Duneland School Board comprise the RDC, and the council set the meeting last night.

The RDC administers property tax revenue collected within a designed allocation area or TIF district.

Previously the RDC used its $600,000 annual TIF income to make payments on a prior bond issue sold to install sewer lines throughout the town and upgrade its sewage treatment plant.

Those bonds are in the process of being paid off in full at a savings of about $64,000 in interest; now the RDC can consider how else to use the TIF money in 2014 although there are limitations on where and for what the money can be spent.

The council also tentatively agreed to meet in closed executive session Sept. 23 to discuss terms of a possible lease with Chesterton Pop Warner football league for use of the former Westport Community Club building and grounds recently donated to the town.

Resident Gayle Van Loon asked if the public will have another chance to comment on Westport uses prior to a final vote being taken. The council indicated the public will.

Council member Mike Perrine was absent Wednesday.

 

Posted 9/12/2013