Chesterton Tribune

Burns Harbor considering user fee to fund hydrants in 2013 budget

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Burns Harbor Town Council is considering charging residents a new user fee to cover the cost of 2013 fire hydrant maintenance.

A public hearing will be scheduled on the proposed budget including the $4.12 per-month hydrant fee.

Members said if Burns Harbor residents want to benefit from the planned advanced-life-support ambulance service to be operated by the town Fire Department, start-up money has to be found somewhere when faced with an already tight budget.

Council members have agreed to give the new ALS service, tentatively set to begin in November, a one-year trial period in hopes after that it can become self-sustaining.

At a budget workshop Wednesday, member Jeff Freeze said state tax officials are tying government’s hands except for implementing user fees. “Eventually, all towns will resort to that.”

Chesterton and Porter for some time have passed along certain costs to customers there.

Chesterton charges the typical residential sewer customer $29.86 every two months to help fund trash collection, and $12.20 every two months to support the federally mandated MS4 stormwater protection program. Hydrant maintenance of $8.24 every two months is passed on to Chesterton customers on their Indiana American Water Co. billing.

Joe Loughmiller of IAWC said while the latter cost is often thought of as a rental fee for use of the water company’s hydrants, the fee actually helps recover a portion of the utility’s costs to provide additional capacity, treatment and other expenses to make sure the system responds when hydrants are needed.

Porter briefly passed on its cost for hydrant maintenance to residents but the fee later was repealed.

Porter sewer customers do pay $24 every two months to help fund town trash collection and the typical residential customer pays $8 every two months for MS4.

Also at the Burns Harbor budget workshop, the Town Council with member Greg Miller absent agreed to consider a $1,500 annual raise for each full-time police officer and $1,000 for other full-time town employees. Currently a deputy marshal and a General Maintenance laborer both make the same $20.91 per hour, Perrine said, and police working in other jurisdictions are paid more than Burns Harbor officers.

He also stated that police require more training, have more liability exposure and more interaction with the public. Freeze said all town employees keep more of their wages by making only a nominal contribution toward their town-provided health insurance.

Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan received no raise in 2012 but the council is proposing one for 2013. Jordan works without the assistance of any deputies in her office.

The council hasn’t taken a pay hike in several years and each member makes $4,000 annually. Councilman Gene Weibl said if paying a user fee is being requested of residents, he can’t support council raises.

Perrine reminded that prior to the Bethlehem Steel bankrupty that rocked the town financially in 2001, residents paid three times their current Burns Harbor tax rate of $0.3192 cents per each $100 of assessed valuation. “At our current tax level, this is a steal for the people who live in this town.”

The draft 2013 budget has to be submitted by Sept. 1 to the Porter County Council for non-binding review; the Town Council will make any final adjustments and conduct a public hearing Sept. 19 on the rescheduled date of its next meeting.

 

Posted 8/24/2012