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Council: Burns Harbor budget rap doesn't count; tower lease, bus shelters addressed

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Town of Burns Harbor’s proposed 2014 budget received a negative recommendation last week from the Porter County Council, but town officials said they’re not worried.

Burns Harbor was among almost 20 of the county’s city, town, township and conservancy district budgets that got the same treatment.

The council’s non-binding recommendation, required by state law, is not a determining factor when the state budget agency certifies the final municipal budgets and levies, the latter the amount of tax money allowed to be collected.

Government units are allowed a 2.6 percent growth quotient next year. Burns Harbor clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said while on paper it may appear the town is exceeding that, some expenses in the 2014 budget will be funded with cash on hand or won’t end up being spent as is the case of sewer bonds that are now in the process of being paid off early.

Some government units typically budget high and make cuts later, rather than budgeting low and then finding out the state would have allowed it more money if it had only asked.

During public comment last Wednesday on Burns Harbor’s proposed $3.6 million 2014 budget, former councilman Cliff Fleming asked if the state would be receptive to special legislation restoring some of the money the town voluntarily cut after Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt in 2001.

Had the town not made drastic cuts, remaining taxpayers would have had to fund about 87 percent of the town budget that Bethlehem previously paid.

Jordan and current council member Jeff Freeze said the will to restore funds doesn’t appear to be there in Indianapolis or among the local legislative delegation. Final adoption of Burns Harbor’s 2014 budget is slated for Oct. 9 with state review to follow.

Tower deal sweetened

Also Wednesday, the council authorized consultants to review and formalize terms of a contract with American Tower to extend its lease for an existing cellular communications tower on town land. Freeze said the original signing bonus offered has been doubled to $50,000.

The length of the requested extension has been reduced, according to Freeze, and the rent would increase each year. The town receives just under $12,000 now. The money is used to award educational scholarships to town residents.

Freeze also reported he and town Park Board president Marcus Rogala attended a recent countywide workshop to discuss the feasibility of a Porter County sports facility. Freeze said the discussions pretty much focused on Valparaiso, not north county, and Rogala said it appears the desire is for one new complex rather than upgrading existing ones.

Rogala said the Park Board hosted the Burns Harbor town picnic Aug. 25 with over 130 persons attending at Lakeland Park.

Oct. 12 there the Park Board is hosting a Coffee & Canvas art instructional night; the cost is $35 per person. Nov. 9 for $25 youngsters can attend Cupcakes & Canvas to learn decorating and drawing. An art director will supervise both classes. Contact 787-8126 for more information.

The Park Board tentatively is discussing a 5K run in town, and adding a patio at the Lakeland gazebo funded through the sale of laser-engraved memorial bricks. Dates for the popular family movie nights in the arts & crafts building this winter will be announced soon, Rogala added.

Bus shelter facelifts

Last month resident Cas Perez was given permission to paint one town bus-stop shelter in a school-bus theme; the result was so popular the Town Council approved paying for the additional paint to do the remaining approximately nine concrete shelters.

“It’s a vast improvement; I was impressed,” said resident Gayle Van Loon. Fire chief Bill Arney said the tanks --- which some have thought were tornado shelters --- are now easily recognizable as bus stops.

In a related school matter, Freeze as president of the The Village subdivision POA thanked town marshal Mike Heckman for the good job his department did on traffic control near bus stops as children returned to classes. Heckman said he had additional units at town subdivisions the first week.

Arney reported the Fire Department responded to 55 calls in August, 25 of them EMS ambulance calls and 12 additional assists to EMS. The 55 calls included responses for 12 vehicle accidents, two dive calls, one vehicle fire.

The department spent 17 hours 56 minutes on-scene at emergency calls. Fire vehicles traveled 949 miles last month.

As building commissioner, Arney said response to complaints about dust and particulates falling from Praxair’s sandblasting showed the material is not hazardous. Heckman also announced the new access road between The Village and Harbor Trails subdivisions is now paved.

Street superintendent Randy Skalku announced Sept. 26 is this season’s big garbage day. Contact Able Disposal, a division of Republic Services, at 926-1046 for a list of items eligible for pick-up.

Councilman Greg Miller asked about a recent court decision involving Burns Harbor.

Town attorney Bob Welsh said the Indiana Supreme Court didn’t accept a transfer to review the state Appeals Court decision upholding the town’s 2008 denial of zoning variances for Job Steel. The company then sued, but the Appeals Court declined to reverse a prior Porter Superior Court decision in favor of the town. The lawsuit is now ended.

The town also won a Porter Superior Court ruling in 2011 that if Scott’s Way at the previous Job Steel location didn’t cease operating a truck terminal without zoning OK, it faced $1,000 per-day fines.

During public comment resident Eric Hull told council members, “You don’t get thanked enough for the job you do.” He also praised Arney, Heckman and Skalku for their work.

Councilman Mike Perrine was absent Wednesday. Monday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. council members will convene a meeting as the Burns Harbor Redevelopment Commission, which has yet to meet in 2013.

 

 

Posted 9/16/2013