County Council delays funding Chesterton utility corridor
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent July 24, 2012 8:42PM
Updated: August 26, 2012 6:21AM
VALPARAISO — With three no votes, two yes votes and two abstentions, the Porter County Council put off a decision on kicking $742,409 in economic development income tax money over to the Chesterton utility corridor project, pushing town officials ever closer to their deadline.
On Tuesday, council members set a tentative Monday meeting date to further pursue the matter, inviting the Porter County Board of Commissioners, representatives from the new redevelopment commission and the Jobs Cabinet, and the town of Chesterton, the Damon Run Conservancy and the city of Portage to join the discussion.
Officials from Chesterton, who asked the county to chip in so the utility project along the Indiana 49 corridor could expand to handle future growth near the new Porter Regional Hospital, said Tuesday they have opened bids and face an Aug. 6 deadline to sign contracts.
The money from the county would be a loan, paid back from tap-in fees collected by developers, Councilwoman Sharon Darnell said. Chesterton will move forward with the project regardless of the county’s participation, albeit on a smaller scale.
Between concerns raised by the Damon Run Conservancy about what the partnership would mean for their customers, what the investment would mean for the health of the county’s budget — Jim Biggs, R-1st District, said a preliminary report shows the county is running more than $2 million in the red, and needs that economic development income tax money to shore up its budget — and the need for council members to gather more information, the matter stalled.
Karen Conover, R-3rd District, and Laura Blaney, D-At –Large, voted in favor of the corridor, citing the need for economic growth and jobs.
“We’ve got to grow our tax base,” said Blaney, who helped promote the effort, adding the project would be an investment.
Biggs, Jim Polarek, R-4th District, and Sylvia Graham, D-At-Large, voted against the project, though Biggs was willing to reconsider.
“If we can find monies that are not allocated, that the county is not relying on for operating funds, that we can get a return on our investment, I will not stand in the way,” he said.
Council President Dan Whitten, D-At-large, and Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd District, abstained to get more information. Whitten wanted more information on what the project might mean for Damon Run, which also serves that area, and Rivas suggested the joint meeting.
Chesterton officials seemed pleased enough that the county’s involvement wasn’t dead yet.
“It just proves that government does work to continue communicating, to facilitate working together,” Darnell said.