Cities and towns pledge South Shore extension support

2014-03-16T18:00:00Z 2014-03-17T18:55:09Z Cities and towns pledge South Shore extension supportBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

Lake County municipalities are starting to ante up for the South Shore Line extension to Dyer, with four already setting aside their first annual payment for a combined total of $669,623.

That is a start, but far still short of the total of 19 Lake County cities and towns U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., has been persuading to donate a portion of their proceeds from the new one-quarter percent county economic development income tax.

Visclosky set a deadline of the end of this month for rounding up the money from all 19.

“If we make that economic investment of using that one-quarter percent economic development tax, we will grow our economy exponentially,” Visclosky told 300 businesspeople last week at a rally to boost the project.

The pledges coming in from communities will be added to the approximately $2.1 million Lake County is setting aside from its proceeds from the new tax. All wage earners in the county have been paying the tax since October, following action earlier in the year by the County Council.

In a best case scenario, South Shore boosters are counting on rounding up about $7.5 million in annual funding from cities, towns and Lake County. That would be added to $8 million per year already pledged by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and $4 million more that may flow out of action by the Indiana General Assembly.

Local officials who have already made the commitment say they think in the long-run, the investment will pay off for Northwest Indiana.

"Sometimes you have to think beyond your own borders and I'm proud the council stepped up to the plate," Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura said.

The Whiting City Council approved committing 25 percent of its proceeds from the county economic development income tax for 2015, which works out to an estimated $105,000.

In Highland, Town Council President Dan Vassar wrote a 20 percent contribution, equaling about $114,000, into the town's two year plan for spending its new found economic development funds after conferring with other council members, according to Town Clerk/Treasurer Michael Griffin.

That action is actually just the start of a process that could last years. Actual appropriation of the money will require a vote of the council. And at some further point in the future, the council will have to make a legally binding statement of irrevocability, committing to fund the project for as long as the bonds used to finance it are outstanding.

Griffin said that is the same process all 19 towns and cities will have to go through if the South Shore extension continues on track.

Griffin and some other local officials say even though the 8-mile South Shore Line extension from Hammond to Dyer may be miles away from their community, it will be an economic boon to the region as a whole. And some see even more specific benefits for their community.

"Ultimately my goal is to see the Hobart and Valparaiso line built, because that will benefit our community the most," Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor said. "But I understand in order to get there we have to make some investments in the West Lake Corridor first and then it will eventually come our way."

Snedecor said his administration in consultation with council members set aside 18 percent of its economic development income tax proceeds for the South Shore extension, which works out to $171,000.

The Munster Town Council meeting unanimously approved setting aside 34 percent Feb. 3 of its economic development income tax proceeds for the South Shore extension, which works out to $279,623.

Munster Town Manager Tom DeGiulio said Munster is one of the communities that will feel the biggest impact from the extension, which will have station in the Munster/Dyer area.

"We feel it's important to be in the forefront," DeGiulio said the day of the vote.

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