It is sadly ironic that even as NIRPC prepares to approve a plan calling for transit-friendly "livable centers," the Lake County Council and Board of Commissioners seem poised to reject funding for regional bus service.
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission presupposes the existence of regional mass transit services in Northwest Indiana, as well it should. Government long has been expected to provide this essential service.
Yet some of the the Lake County Council members who are set to meet this morning already have said they will not support a new tax to fund regional bus service. They are willing to turn their backs on Lake County residents who depend on the government for this lifeline to connect riders to shopping, doctor appointments and employment.
It's time to create a regional transit funding mechanism and bring Northwest Indiana's various bus services together under a single umbrella for riders' convenience. Provide the single phone number to call for a ride or information, which was envisioned at the very beginning.
Enacting an income tax could fund bus service, but it could accomplish much more.
Struggling communities such as Merrillville could see relief that would allow the parks department to provide the variety of recreational programs residents expect, rather than reduce services to lawn care for playgrounds. Public safety needs could be met more easily. The quality of life in those communities could be improved — or at least shored up.
Enacting the income tax means unshackling communities from the frozen tax levy imposed solely on Lake County. That frozen levy already has accomplished its goal of making local governments more frugal.
The income tax also would ease the cold shoulder Lake County gets from downstate for refusing to join the other 91 counties in adopting this kind of tax. It's difficult to get respect and state funding for Lake County projects when the county steadfastly has refused to help itself to the financial tool every other Hoosier county has used.
An income tax builds in property tax relief for homeowners, too. It's not the windfall that it might appear to be.
Most important, though, is the tax would allow county officials to finally provide a permanent funding source for fix-route, paratransit and demand-response busing in the county and bring the patchwork system together for increased efficiency.
Failing to offer financial support for regional bus service would mean failing to meet county officials' responsibility to provide an essential public service to this segment of the public. The Lake County Council must not fail these residents today.