Chesterton Tribune



Raises, cuts, fees on the table for Burns Harbor 2015 budget

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Burns Harbor department heads learned Monday the Town Council is considering a 4 percent pay raise for full-time employees in 2015, but that means individual department budgets can’t increase much over this year to swing it.

An increase also is being considered for volunteer firefighters who contract with the town through an incorporation, as well as a $1,000 raise for clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan.

Full-time employees also receive longevity pay.

State tax officials are indicating they will allow a 2.7 percent increase in the money raised through property taxes next year, said Jordan. The 2015 levy is estimated to total about $1.8 million. Six other funds also raised a combined $246,000 this year.

In light of anticipated increases for insurance and benefit costs tied to raises, that left council members looking for every dollar they could cut last night from the proposed 2015 department budgets.

It also prompted councilman Jeff Freeze to ask Jordan to research implementing a trash-collection user fee on residents to help offset the contract cost for that service, which at $81,000 represents about one-fourth of the general fund budget after cuts to it were made.

Burns Harbor’s contract doesn’t include curbside recycling pick-up or trash collection for business properties.

Freeze said he was not advocating a user fee, just bringing it up for discussion sake. Councilman Gene Weibl said the majority of towns offset garbage costs with a fee. Councilman Greg Miller said only a portion of that cost could be offset, not necessarily the entire amount.

“Where else do we go? There’s not many areas to cut,” said council president Jim McGee.

Councilman Mike Perrine was absent.

The council also has to decide how it will use revenue raised through an existing user fee to maintain town water hydrants for fire protection; the money formerly went to the Fire Department for its discontinued ALS ambulance service, which also received town CEDIT funds which now can be redirected for another purpose.

During the Police Department discussion, Freeze said town marshal Mike Heckman likely needs to hire another full-time deputy next year due to continued population growth in town. Budget categories were adjusted to allow for it.

Fire chief Bill Arney had budgeted $80,000 to expand the fire station with a training room. He said there’s no adequate space for the 26 volunteers to assemble. Freeze said he’s not questioning the need, just whether it’s short sighted doing something now that doesn’t reflect the future space needs of other town departments.

Weibl noted every department needs space so the long-term question is whether the fire station will remain where it is.

The town’s comprehensive plan calls for construction of a new town hall near U.S. 20 where a downtown district is proposed, leaving the current town hall to be repurposed.

Arney said he needs to replace his aging chief’s first-response vehicle. Council members indicated replacing the vehicle, road paving and perhaps building sidewalks in some areas likely will be 2015 priorities.

The reactivated town Redevelopment Commission anticipates collecting $600,000 both this year and next year from property taxes segregated for its exclusive use. The RDC hasn’t submitted a budget how 2015 funds would be spent. RDC president Miller said he’ll finalize a tentative budget for the rescheduled Aug. 18 council meeting.



Posted 7/29/2014









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