Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Westport transfer to Burns Harbor may have strings attached; big tax bill due

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Westport Community Club members recently voted to turn over their building and adjoining acreage to the Town of Burns Harbor for park use, but there could be a catch.

“It could be a situation in which the property could not be given to the town free of any encumbrances,” said Town Council member Mike Perrine, who’s been active in the club.

Meeting Wednesday, the council set April 16 at 7:30 p.m. as a public meeting with Westport directors to discuss terms of the possible transfer. Town attorney Bob Welsh will research related issues in the interim.

Perrine explained the club is appealing the loss of its previous tax exemption from Porter County and is facing an estimated $20,000 tax bill this year. An appeal hearing is scheduled, but Westport can’t afford to reorganize from a non-profit 501(c)(4) social welfare civic league to a charitable organization to retain the exemption, according to Perrine.

He noted the club made only $3,600 in revenue from building rentals in 2012 and for the past few years has been relying on private donations to pay insurance, utilities and upkeep.

In addition, the building is outdated, not handicapped accessible and needs renovation, Perrine said prior to the meeting. The community club was incorporated as the hub of Burns Harbor civic activity in 1954 pre-dating the town’s 1967 incorporation.

Perrine said for the community club, the writing is on the wall: if the town doesn’t accept the building and grounds, it will sit there until it goes on the auction block.

Councilman Greg Miller expressed concern that if the town does assume ownership, could Porter County back-assess the property creating even more tax liability for Burns Harbor?

Welsh said he needs to talk to county officials to see if Westport’s current tax bill is accurate, and whether it could be eliminated or forgiven. Spring tax bills are due May 10. Titlework also would need to be researched prior to any transfer.

Gun range to reopen

Both residents and council members commended town marshal Mike Heckman for brokering a compromise that soon will allow Burns Harbor officers to use the department’s gun range again.

One year ago the range, located west of the Street Department complex on Navajo Trail, was closed after complaints, especially from nearby Indian Springs residents. At that time several police departments and agencies trained at the range on various weapons.

Now, said Heckman, five Burns Harbor officers each will qualify twice a year sometime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Residents who request it will be notified when shooting will occur, and a manned police car will stand by at the fishermans’ parking lot northwest of the range.

Heckman is working with town Street Department superintendent Randy Skalku to bring the range into full compliance, and a certified rangemaster trainer will be on site when qualification on pistol, rifle and shotgun takes place.

Linda McGinnis asked that shooting not occur the first two weeks in May when migrating birds are returning. Heckman agreed, saying he saw Sandhill cranes recently in town.

Chuck Tuter said he appreciated being contacted, and Heckman’s plan sounds like it will work well. Jesse Day said his concern is the safety of children in the area; Perrine said all precautions will be taken and shooting restricted to inside the berm.

Neighbor Thomas Pizzolato said he has no problem as long as town police use the range. “If they don’t qualify, they can’t do their job.” With robberies, thefts and convenience-store holdups, he added, “We need our police officers ready to go.”

Councilman Gene Weibl said range use got out of hand before, but the current council won’t let that happen again.

IFS abatement continued

Welsh reported an anticipated presentation last night by representatives of Indiana Flame Services seeking tax abatement was delayed at the company’s request. A preliminary presentation took place March 13.

The ArcelorMittal contractor plans to upgrade and expand its slab-conditioning equipment there and move its Research and Development operations to Burns Harbor from France.

Also Wednesday, at Perrine’s suggestion the council established a policy directing clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan automatically to send a floral arrangement of up to $100 from the town when a current or former official, an employee or a member of either’s family passes away.

Weibl and Freeze apologized to the family of recently deceased Warren Boo, a former town official and community leader. Weibl, clearly moved by his recollections of Boo, said it was truly an oversight. “He was a good man, a good character.”

Tuter said Boo was one of the most memorable officials the town has had, and Ray Poparad said of Boo, “He was a town father.”

Boo’s wife Betty, who survives, was the town’s clerk-treasurer for many years.

The Boo family donated land where the Westport Community Club is located and Weibl said if the town acquires it, appropriate action to remember Boo could be taken.

 

Posted 4/12/2013