The old saying of "you can't get something for nothing" certainly seems to apply to the case of emergency services provided by Portage to the Port of Indiana.
When disaster strikes at the port, it's not your run-of-the mill cat stuck in a tree or even a house fire. It's potentially an industrial emergency requiring specialized training and extra manpower -- with priceless human lives and millions in industrial dollars on the line.
For years, the port has leaned on its home city's municipal fire and police departments for the emergency service needs of this important engine to Northwest Indiana's economy.
With all of that in mind, Portage Mayor James Snyder is asking -- quite reasonably -- for fair compensation from the port to keep his departments on the cutting edge of dealing with complex port emergencies.
Snyder said his city recognizes the important role the port plays in region commerce, employing hundreds of workers and keeping us on the import/export and shipping map. But he also fairly notes a concern for the safety of Portage emergency responders who need specialized training and equipment to handle potential port disasters.
To that end, Snyder is backing an Indiana House bill that would require the port make a payment in lieu of taxes to Portage in the amount of property taxes that would be paid to the city if the property were not exempt from taxation.
Snyder said the city currently receives compensation -- in the value of base taxes -- for port buildings and equipment, but not land, real estate and improvements. And he noted that depreciation of equipment and the low value of external structures at the port have translated into a paltry reimbursement for the 64 port emergency calls and 300 responses to the industrial area surrounding the port that his city has handled during the past three years.
Snyder is slated to meet with the Indiana Port Commission later this month, hoping to work out an equitable solution without the pending legislation. But short of successful negotiations, the emergency services funding bill should be passed by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Mike Pence.
There is precedent for such a practice in Indiana, with the U.S. military compensating affected communities for their services.
The Port of Indiana is too valuable an asset -- and the lives and training of the people who keep it safe far too important -- for anything but a fair emergency services funding structure.