Traditionally, the New Year's holiday affords us the opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities and make certain resolutions for personal improvement in the coming 12 months. Local and county government in Northwest Indiana should be no different.
Dozens of worthy projects aimed at economic and community development, transportation improvements and other region benefits will continue occupying political discussions — and possibly even come to fruition — in the new year. Meanwhile, some other ideas and projects don't deserve the oxygen it would take for our political leaders to mention and should be left behind with 2012.
With that in mind, we have compiled a list of projects that should receive vigorous attention in the new year as well as some duds that should be given a final fling atop the scrap heap.
Pursue a teaching/trauma hospital in Gary
This is a topic often discussed within the past decade and deserving of continued action in 2013. Northwest Indiana is a major metropolitan area in terms of size and both needs and deserves the best medical care possible. Our urban climate demands a hospital equipped with the ability to respond to severe trauma cases. It should not be necessary for severely injured accident victims — or others with traumatic and potentially mortal injuries — to be loaded into a helicopter or ambulance and transported to Chicago or Indianapolis for care. Every second counts in critical care cases, and the people of the Calumet Region deserve the best possible care. Trauma centers also would create important educational opportunities if coupled with medical degree programs from state medical schools.
Continue tearing down blighted buildings in the urban core
The old Sheraton Hotel in Gary is one of the first buildings that come to mind. In the past few years, Gary and other urban region communities have made strides in leveling abandoned, blighted or long-unused buildings, creating empty lots upon which development can occur or aesthetic green space established. These efforts need to continue full bore in 2013, and communities need to explore and latch on to any and all available federal grants and other funding mechanisms to keep the problem from breaking the bank.
Bite the bullet on a local income tax rather than borrowing
None of us like the specter of another tax, and the history of government waste in Lake County makes it even more bitter to the fiscal taste buds. But tax caps and freezes — combined with needed austerity measures — have made the adoption of a local county income tax all but essential. County leaders need to put political expediency aside and summon the courage to adopt a local income tax in 2013. The solution should no longer be the wasteful and endless game of borrowing to pay the bills. Creating debt doesn't dig you out of a hole; it makes the hole deeper. This technique doesn't work well for individual taxpayers, and it shouldn't be used at the local government level either.
Scrap trash-to-ethanol, open a real debate about consolidating trash collections
Frankly, 2011 and 2012 should have been the years that the futile trash-to-ethanol contract was finally put out with the rest of the garbage. Four years after the Lake County Solid Waste Management District signed a contract with a would-be Evansville developer to build the facility in Schneider, the plan still lacks financing, land upon which to build, and the required operating and environmental permits. Now the original developer, Powers Energy of America, has said it plans to sell its interests in the contract to local construction contractors and jump ship. If the solid waste district spent even a year of the four years it has spent breathing in the pipe-dream that is this project, we might actually have a viable plan in place to save taxpayers on garbage disposal. The bell cannot be un-rung, but it is time for our leaders to admit this isn't working and seek a new direction, starting with the opening of bids for a new consolidated contract. And this time, let's try to seek out a more proven method of dealing with our county's trash.