CROWN POINT — The Lake County Council voted 4-3 Thursday to set aside $150,000 to assist the struggling Gary Public Transportation Corp.
Council members from north and south county communities bitterly debated whether all county taxpayers should support the Gary-based bus service.
The Gary Public Transportation Corp. is pushing for local funding to preserve its Lakeshore South route, which loops among Hammond, Munster and Highland.
The transit agency has said a reduction in federal funding may require eliminating that route by December without receiving $200,000 locally. Paratransit service provided by GPTC in the area of the bus route would also end in December.
Service on Lakeshore South, as well as the Lakeshore Connection route running from Gary into East Chicago, has already been reduced this year.
Washington said he has voted in the past for millions of dollars in property taxes paid by north county residents for road repairs for south county. "Now the north has issues. GPTC does transportation for the Region. They run routes for Hammond, Whiting, Merrillville and Crown Point and take a lot of residents from the north to the south to get to work, groceries and child care."
Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, asked, "Is it going down to Lowell? Is it going down to Cedar Lake? I don't see where the county has the responsibility to support the Gary bus service."
Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, said, "I really hate when you are cutting up Gary. When you do that you make it personal. That is my community."
Strong and Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, who both voted against giving GPTC county money, said they voted against the $150,000 subsidy on broad fiscal policy principles. "I object and am disappointed that you think I'm taking a shot at Gary, because I'm not," Strong said.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said he supports helping the Gary bus service, but was voting no because he preferred to wait to negotiate the county's fair share with other communities served by the buses, which should also be contributing.
"If we now approve $150,000, do we expect anyone to come and ask for less than $150,000?" Bilski said.
The council will meet Tuesday afternoon for a final vote on county government's 2018 budget. That budget will raise property taxes countywide to generate an additional $850,000 next year for bridge and stormwater drainage ditch repairs.
The balanced budget also grants a 3 percent pay raise for hundreds of full-time employees. That will add $2.1 million to county spending this year.