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Governor signs Griffith, Gary bills into law

Updated: June 13, 2013 7:01PM



Gov. Mike Pence has signed a bill into law that could lead to economic development in Gary and another bill that could create a path for Griffith to secede from Calumet Township.

Pence’s spokeswoman, Kara Brooks, said the governor signed Senate Bill 565 and House Bill 1585 on Friday night.

‘The Gary bill’

A section of SB 565 unfreezes Lake County’s levy, but it has little impact now that Lake County officials passed a county income tax.

Other elements of the bill include studies on the viability of a new port in Buffington Harbor and a teaching/trauma hospital, also in Gary.

It also sets parameters for members of the Gary/Chicago Airport Authority. The legislation calls for the members to have experience in aviation, business or finance. The governor’s appointee will chair the board. The bill says the state can audit the airport operations at any time.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Saturday the section that could create a new port holds the greatest promise.

“It’s a potential employer and it’s a great catalyst for other businesses that require the services of a port. There’s great opportunity there.”

Another section of the bill will allow Gary to capture tax levy that’s not being exercised by the Gary Sanitary District. The GSD stopped collecting the levy in 2011, but there wasn’t a mechanism in place to route money back to the city, Freeman-Wilson said. The bill does that, she said. It will mean an additional $3 million to $4 million for the city annually, she said. The money is earmarked for public safety.

‘The Griffith bill’

Griffith town officials have been pushing for an escape from Calumet Township’s heavy poor relief burden for several years.

House Bill 1585 caps Calumet Township’s poor relief spending and it makes it possible for Griffith to leave the township.

The bill divided Northwest Indiana’s legislative delegation with suburban lawmakers favoring it and the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus opposed.

The bill gives the township a year to lower the rate before the state Distressed Unit Appeals Board will step in.

If the rate is still above the threshold, Griffith can begin a process of seceding from the township to join another township.

Freeman-Wilson sent a letter to Pence asking him not to sign the measure.

“There are a number of aspects to that bill that are troubling,” she said. “Not the least of which is the ability of one area to secede from the other, really because of the impact of poverty.”

Freeman-Wilson said the legislation opens up a “Pandora’s box.”



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