Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Chesterton approves $1.5 million bond issue for road improvements

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

It was a move that no member of the Chesterton Town Council said they wanted to make but the four members present all agreed to five-year bond of $1.5 million from the County to repave town roads before the lead to more expensive problems.

Chesterton taxpayers will see an increase in their taxes to pay for the bond. An owner of a home assessed at $200,000 will pay roughly $32.45 a year, while commercial properties will pay about $32.20 for each $100,000 of value.

The bonds will be purchased by the Porter County Treasurer’s Office at an interest rate of 2 percent.

A public hearing was held for the ordinance to accept the bond issue. Three citizens remonstrated having to pay more in taxes and wanted the Council to realize the effect the move would have, particularly on those residents with fixed incomes.

Resident Wheeler Stanley said his taxes went up by $400 last year and asked what had been budgeted for the street department and why the town “couldn’t live within it.”

Also complaining of higher taxes, Valparaiso resident Dennis Byron, who owns buildings on Calumet Road, asked if the board had considered other measures to pay off the bonds other than raising property taxes. He asked if the Council had thought of a vehicle fee so that it could be paid by people in town who use the roads.

Town Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said the state has cut its funding as gas tax revenues have dropped with more fuel-efficient vehicles on the roads. The department gets by with enough to sustain itself but not enough for road repair.

Council member Jeff Trout, R-2nd, said that the town has used $200,000 in its allocated income tax revenue from the county to pay for roads. The Redevelopment Commission has used money collected in tax increment finance (TIF) districts to pay for further improvements in those areas.

Town attorney Chuck Lukmann said of the $1.5 million, $500,000 will be used for roads within TIF districts or roads connected to it. The remaining $1 million will be a burden shared by Chesterton property owners.

As for Byron’s question about a vehicle fee, Schnadenberg said “it’s not a bad idea” but it is not an option because the law only gives County Commissions the ability to enact that fee or a large majority of municipalities in a county must agree to push for it. Schnadenberg said Byron should go to the County Commissioners if he would like to have a wheel tax.

Resident and Redevelopment Commission member Paul Tharp was the only speaker in support of the ordinance feeling the increase on taxpayers was “not unreasonable” for what it tried to accomplish. He said the town’s street department “could not shoulder” the cost of all the road maintenance by itself.

Council President Emerson DeLaney, R-5th, sympathized with the ordinance’s opponents as it means he too will be paying more in taxes but he and the other Council members said they don’t have much of a choice in the matter in order to avoid heftier road costs in days to come.

“If we don’t do it now, it will be twice as much later. You get to the point where the rubber meets the road, you’ve got to do something,” said member Jim Ton, R-1st.

Trout said this past winter’s deep freeze saw “incredible freeze-thaw cycles that did a lot of damage” and it was “not something that could be controlled.”

“This winter was really a perfect storm. It exacerbated the need to repair the roads,” he said.

Ton said that the board did its due diligence in looking at what would be the least expensive way to tackle these road issues and he and Trout said Chesterton is not unique in its dilemma. Other municipalities such as Portage and Griffith have also taken out bonds for road work.

DeLaney and Ton said taxes went up last year not because of anything the town did but because a majority of Duneland voters passed a referendum to give the Duneland Schools a 22 cent increase in property taxes per $100 of assessed value.

The last time the town bonded for street projects was roughly 20 years ago, Schnadenberg said. The town has 70 miles of road all together , which have a life span of 10-12 years.

Ton, Trout, DeLaney and Nick Walding, R-3rd, voted yes on the ordinance. Absent Tuesday was Council member Sharon Darnell, D-4th.

Trout commended the speakers on their “well thought out presentations” that presented some good give and take, providing a better understanding of the action the Council “must” take.

DBIG fireworks request

In other business, the Council decided 4-0 against a request from the Duneland Business Initiative Group to pony up $300 for DBIG’s 4th of July fireworks show.

Ton said the town pledged $2,500 in money and in-kind services to the Duneland Chamber of Commerce’s request for the fireworks at Indiana Dunes State Park and there wasn’t any money left in the town’s fund. Although no public money could be used, Ton suggested the Council members could give individual donations from their own pockets, which is what they did last year.

Reports

Also Tuesday, the Council voted 4-0 to appoint Town Engineer Mark O’Dell as the interim Building Commissioner.

In department reports, Police Chief Dave Cincoski said the merger of the Chesterton and Porter Police dispatch systems will go live at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and he expects a smooth transition, but extra personnel will be on standby in case there are problems.

Assistant Fire Chief John Jarka said that Engine 512 is out of service temporarily due to a few bad fuel injectors but parts are on the way to replace them.

Schnadenberg said he is excited to be using the street department’s new hot patcher, replacing the broken one that was from the 1970s or 80s. The new one can regulate temperature, making work a lot easier.

In her report, Clerk-Treasurer Stephanie Kuziela said that she has received back less than 200 of the business registration forms that were due to her which is not even half of the 492 sent out.

 

Posted 5/28/2014