CHESTERTON | Chesterton Fire Chief Mike Orlich asked Town Council members on Tuesday night to include ambulance service in the town’s budget. It was approved after much debate.
Orlich reported that he met with town officials and town financial consultants to discuss costs and budgeting for funding ambulance service through the Fire Department.
“There is no negative impact that would be felt by any department or the general fund. There would be no negative impact to any taxpayer. This is a user fee. The numbers are fact-based,” said Orlich, who asked the council for a loan from County Economic Development Income Tax funds for the program.
Orlich said the service would start April 1. He estimated costs between $150,000 to $175,000 with repayment in 36 to 48 months, a projection of $482,000 generated in annual revenue and a 60 percent payment rate from users.
Councilman James Ton moved to include the program in the advertised budget. But Councilwoman Sharon Darnell questioned the origin of the numbers presented.
“Some of the feedback I’m getting is how at this time can we create another department with four more people when we can’t give our existing people raises. I understand what you’re saying. It will bring more money in, but it’s that startup cost. I’d like to explore other ways that won’t be so much on the town,” said Darnell.
Darnell said she understood the aim of the program, but not the funding.
“Since the current program is a county-funded ambulance service, most of the trips are going down the road (Porter Regional Hospital) and not to the beautiful facility we have here (the Chesterton Health and Emergency Center affiliated with Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Michigan City), that’s something I understand. But it’s CEDIT and that’s a tax,” said Darnell.
Ton responded, “It doesn’t come from taxes, and you won’t pay for it unless you need the ambulance.”
Orlich said he did not see funds getting any more plentiful in the future with tax caps and the state push toward user fees funding services.
“I look at it as enhancing our current service. We’re there 90 percent of the time giving aid to our residents already,” said Orlich.
Council members Ton, Darnell,and Emerson DeLaney voted to include the program in the advertised budget while Trout voted no, Nick Walding was absent. At the end of the meeting, Darnell said she would have questions moving forward as the program develops.
In other business, Gregg Calpino of SEH, who has been hired by the town to develop a plan for the Dunes Kankakee Trail through Chesterton, presented a draft of a summary report to the council.
“We’ve gone through early visioning stage to alternatives and got it down to the one preferred route,” said Calpino who added that the trail along Calumet and Broadway would incorporate streetscapes since it utilizes existing corridors and shared lanes.
“The overall project is about a $6 million, or a million a mile, sale. Phase one is $1.8 million, the second phase is $3.8 mil, and the additional million to build the north side, which isn’t required for the DK trail but it separates pedestrians out better,” he said.
The council voted unanimously to accept Calpino’s draft of the plan.