DOUG ROSS: Use proceeds for real economic development

2011-12-27T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Use proceeds for real economic developmentBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Sometimes an act is criminal, sometimes it's illegal but not criminal, sometimes it's legal but wrong. Where does Chesterton's misuse of Major Moves money fit among those three categories?

If you listen to Chesterton officials, the answer is: Nowhere. They argue the use of $750,394 in proceeds from the Indiana Toll Road lease for construction of the town's new municipal complex is a fair use of the money.

Gumby would be proud. It's quite a stretch to consider the new municipal building an appropriate use of that money. Yet the town's attorney said it was was an economic development project.

The State Board of Accounts contends in the audit, "Building costs are not allowable costs from Major Moves funds according to Indiana Code 8-14-16-5."

A case could be made for a building being considered an economic development project, but this building is not that case.

So the state agency for auditing local government disagrees with Chesterton officials on the use of this money. What happens now?

Most likely, nothing.

Unless someone files a complaint with the Porter County prosecutor's office, the audit report is the end of the road for this beef, said Charlie Pride, a supervisor with the state agency.

And even if someone did, would the prosecutor consider this a criminal act? I don't think so. Is it illegal? Perhaps. But what would be gained from prosecuting a case that might not end in a conviction? Would it be worth the taxpayers' money to prosecute and defend the town? Not likely.

But the attention given to the state audit of Chesterton might put pressure on other communities to spend that Major Moves money more wisely.

Now if only that were the case with economic development income tax money, which the state now allows for uses far beyond economic development.

When the tax was approved by the Porter County Council years ago, it was for the express purpose of stimulating economic development. Well, that and avoiding interest payments on the state loan offered when Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt and reneged on its property taxes.

Since then, that money has been used for some legitimate economic development projects. But it has also been used for other things, like buying garbage trucks, that are hardly economic development moves.

It would be good for city, town and County Council members to take a stand on this issue at the start of the new year. Proclaim that economic development income tax money should be used for that which the tax was named.

And building new municipal or county buildings is not one of those uses.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or doug.ross@nwi.com. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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