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Councilmen talk TIF to chamber

Updated: February 19, 2013 12:18PM



WINFIELD — The February meeting of the Lakes of the Four Seasons/Winfield Chamber of Commerce was held in a private dining room at the Chicagoland Christian Village in Winfield. It was a chance for chamber members to get a first-hand look at the dining facilities, and be inside this large complex devoted to all levels of senior living.

The featured speaker was Gerry Stiener, president of the Winfield Town Council. Never far away was council vice president Don Samburg.

It was an opportunity for their version of a tag team to address the concerns of the community’s business community before the public hearing on the town’s pending creation of a Tax Increment Financing district.

Stiener explained that the Town of Winfield was formed to keep Merrillville from annexing the area that became the town. Town founders put in the lowest taxes possible.

No one envisioned the town becoming the fastest growing community in the state. With the current tax cap and freeze on assessed valuations, the town has a hard time paying for the needed upkeep that the residents and businesses expect.

Just don’t tell them that in order to fix your roads and sewers your taxes have to be raised. The town increased its incoming revenue by a recent annexation, but at the same time the town now owns and is responsible for more streets and roads.

A lot of the smaller roads in the town are not much more than old country roads. Instead of having a large infrastructure of underground pipes to move storm water, the town has the old rural way of moving ground water — ditches along both sides of a road or running behind subdivisions.

Stiener explained the way that a TIF works, by grabbing all the money paid by increases in assessment of property when development has been made on previously open land.

He explained that the town is limited in how it can spend that recaptured money. One way, and probably the most expensive, is 109th Avenue. More businesses will move to Winfield if it can improve the infrastructure, Samburg told the Chamber members.

“Infrastructure is a big deal,” he said.

They also told the members that they have signed a three-year deal, not going beyond their current terms in office, with the Lake County Sheriff, to provide police protection to the town. Samburg said that employing a town marshall would have bankrupted the town. It would have ended up costing the town about one-half million dollars a year.

The town did have a problem with teens vandalizing areas and with a staffing increase the Lake County police should be able two end it before it grows.

Samburg told of one area that had middle-school aged kids knocking on doors at 2:30 a.m.

“A man ran out of his home with a 9mm handgun and shot into the air. That got our attention and the Lake County Sheriff’s attention. We don’t want to see a kid shot.”

Stiener told the chamber that the town was fortunate in having David Austgen as its attorney.

“He knows his stuff and his experience brings a great wealth of knowledge to the town,” Stiener said.

When Samburg was asked why certain areas had not been plowed, he explained that until the developer finishes most of a subdivision and turns over the ownership of the streets to the town, the town does not plow them.

In case the developer goes bankrupt the infrastructure can be completed using the performance bonds and maintenance bonds that they are required to file with the town.

That has been done already in some cases.



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