EAST CHICAGO | East Chicago officials are preparing to discuss whether the city will contribute money to expand the South Shore commuter rail line.
The council has scheduled a workshop meeting for 10 a.m. Thursday at council chambers.
So far, 13 communities and Lake County have earmarked $4 million for the rail expansion. The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority has pledged $8 million toward the project, and an additional $4 million will be designated from local casino revenues approved by the General Assembly.
Hammond approved $250,000 to help pay for an environmental impact study, but has not committed to annual contributions.
East Chicago is last of the larger cities to decide whether it will contribute.
City Council President Lenny Franciski said it was too early in the process to comment on the issue.
Mayor Anthony Copeland said he supports U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky's efforts to expand the rail line, but he won't weigh in on the upcoming debate.
"I have a clear position on this," Copeland said, "but I told (Visclosky) he has to go to the council."
At-Large Councilwoman Myrna Maldonado said about 30 residents, including 10 business owners, have contacted her to voice their opposition to the expansion.
"We'll lose those riders we get who are from Munster and Highland, and they usually come up and they might buy gas or food before they get on the train," Maldonado said.
Maldonado said she wants to support regional ideas, but East Chicago needs to consider its needs first.
She said she's not sure how other council members will vote, and she looks forward to the discussions.
If the city grants Visclosky's request for each community to contribute 34 percent of its county income economic development tax, it would put East Chicago's contribution at $838,000 a year for the lifetime of the project.
Other communities have donated smaller percentages of their tax, ranging from 5 percent in Griffith to 34 percent in Munster and Schererville.