The small lakefront community of Beverly Shores has a fraction of the population of the city of Portage, yet is carrying three times the amount of debt per full-time resident, according to online municipal financial reports.
The town has debt totaling $5.2 million, or $8,423 per full-time resident.
Town Council President Geof Benson said the vast majority of the debt is the result of a nearly $6 million project nine years ago to bring piped-in lake water to the community.
The debt is being paid back through a real estate tax based on a percentage of the value of each of the nearly 500 homes in town, he said.
Benson pointed out the community's full-time population of 613, as listed in the 2010 Census, swells to 1,500 when part-time residents are figured in.
Portage, which has the largest number of full-time residents at 36,828, also has the largest overall debt load of $97.6 million or $2,650 per person, according to Indiana Gateway of Government Units, an online public access data base of local government finances.
The county's only other city, Valparaiso, has $75.5 million in debt, which amounts to $2,380 for each of its 31,730 residents.
Two of the county's towns — Dune Acres and Pines — report having no outstanding debt, according to Gateway.
Theodore Sommer, a financial adviser to Chesterton from the Indianapolis-based London Witte Group, said while municipalities have a debt cap of 2 percent of their assessed valuation, there are exceptions that make it difficult to determine the maximum debt allowed.
Utilities are a big-ticket item when it comes to municipal debt, Valparaiso Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Swihart said.
Valparaiso is particularly hard-hit because it not only provides the standard sanitary and stormsewer services, but also water, she said.
Planning is underway to borrow $5.25 million for the construction of a new public works campus at the city's wastewater treatment plant. City officials have said the debt would be paid off over 17 years and residents won't notice a change in their tax bills, because the new debt would replace a parks department bond that will be paid off this year.
Portage has $24 million in utility debt, compared to $40 million for other needs, Clerk-Treasurer Christopher Stidham said.
This debt includes a $16.5 million loan in 2010 for stormwater improvements and $16.7 million from 2006 for the AmeriPlex at the Port business park, he said.
The city's redevelopment commission agreed last week to initiate the process of borrowing $4 million for the construction of a new Street Department facility at the site of the current facility on Hamstrom Road, Stidham said. The cost of the project was reduced from $7 million.