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Gaming funds should stay with Gary: council members

Updated: March 6, 2014 9:26PM



GARY — The General Assembly’s “hostile takeover” of $4 million in gaming tax refund money now earmarked for the South Shore railroad expansion would have been better served going to the cities from which it came, the Common Council president contends.

At Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting, Kyle Allen said he appreciates public transportation’s importance, especially since people are now moving back to urban areas. But the constant erosion of cities’ coffers are more of a problem than a lack of transportation.

“With tax caps, the only way to offset costs is with those funds,” Allen said. “The money is your money, it’s our money, and my opinion is, if communities in Lake County choose to divert revenue, it should be by choice.”

In council business, members voted 7-1 to approve an ordinance establishing the budget and salaries for the city’s rental housing program. Councilwoman Kim Robinson, D-5, abstained; Councilwoman Carolyn Rogers, D-4, was absent.

Building Commissioner Steven Marcus told the council that in the year the program has been up and running, 87 percent of between 4,000 and 5,000 rental properties in the city were brought into compliance because of it.

Additionally, 4,672 rental properties are now registered with the city, 3,994 of them before the registration deadline, he said. The registration fee balance of $376,141 will be used to fund the salaries, budget and other ancillary costs.

Robinson asked how the salaries would be funded for 2015 and after since House Bill 1313, which bans municipalities from collecting rental ordinance fees, is in place. Allen said he can’t control what the state does, but that the city would make adjustments so the department could remain functioning.

“Most of our landlords show up to their properties between the first and the fifth (of each month) and do not repair or maintain their properties, and citizens are afraid to complain. But you deserve to live in a building that’s maintained,” Allen said. The people who’re against (rental registration fees) are more concerned about money.”

In other business, the council:

Voted 5-3 to reject a special-use variance for Webb House Inc.’s veterans’ facility at 4104 Madison St.

Voted 8-0 to approve an ordinance requiring the full back pay for unpaid leave to police officers or firefighters who are exonerated of wrongdoing; the ordinance also allows 90 days back pay for those who have pleaded their crimes down to Class B misdemeanor or lower.

Voted to authorize a temporary interfund loan to Public Works from the consolidated tax-increment financing fund.

Voted unanimously to approve the annual $150,000 maintenance appropriations for U.S.Steel Yard, home of the Gary SouthShore Railcats baseball team. The stadium makes a $150,000 lease payment to the city, but the city is responsible for the $150,000 maintenance contract. The city won’t be able to renegotiate the contract with the stadium until July 2016, Allen said.



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