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MERRILLVILLE  — The latest cost estimate to build a new community center is about $22.4 million.

As town leaders learned the projected price, officials have discussed how they are considering funding the development in the 6600 block of Broadway.

That could include pursuing two separate bond issues, and the town could authorize the debt without having to increase property taxes, said Bob Swintz, a town financial adviser.

Swintz said 20-year bonds totaling $23 million with 5% interest would cost Merrillville about $1.8 million a year.

Authorizing debt of that size would require property taxes to increase by 3 cents for each $100 of assessed value if no additional action is taken, but there are steps the town can pursue to issue the bonds without affecting property taxes, Swintz said.

Town officials have discussed pursuing donations and grants to help fund the project.

Swintz said Merrillville has existing bond issues, including those that have funded road improvements in the community.

A combination of that debt being repaid and falling off as well as assessed value increasing also would help to prevent changes in property taxes if the community center bonds are approved.

Swintz said the town is “a long way away” from authorizing bonds, so there is time to make adjustments to avoid affecting taxes.

He said approving the debt also wouldn't hinder town services.

Merrillville officials had considered doing the community center project in phases, and starting with a $14.9 million bond issue.

By pursuing two separate bond issues, Merrillville can complete the project at once.

A referendum would be needed to advance the debt if it's more than $15.5 million.

Pursuing two separate bond issues, each of which below that amount, would eliminate the need for a referendum.

Although a public question wouldn't be required, pursuing the two bonds could open the matter to a potential petition and remonstrance process, said Thomas Pitman, Merrillville's bond counsel.

That process would begin if at least 500 residents petition against the bond issues.

If that happens, signatures would then be collected by groups for and against the debt. The side with the most signatures would determine if the bond issues would advance.

As Merrillville continues to contemplate funding the project, more design work will take place for the community center, which is proposed to be nearly 106,000 square feet.

Latest plans call for the facility to include administration offices, a fitness center, gymnasium, walking track, rock climbing wall, event center, community room and other amenities.

There also would be space available that could be leased by a youth organization and a health care provider.

Jeff Ban, of DVG, said he will collaborate with Parks Director Jan Orlich to create more detailed floor plans. He also will work with subcontractors to obtain updated cost estimates.

The additional design work could take another four to six months, and the goal is to begin construction before the end of the year, Ban said.

Although the facility is proposed to offer almost 106,000 square feet, Town Councilwoman Roxanne LaMarca said plans don't include enough space for the community.

She wants the design to incorporate more dedicated space for senior citizens, clubs and gatherings.

A private volleyball club has approached the town about purchasing a portion of the community center land to build a facility adjacent to Merrillville's building.

LaMarca opposes that concept because she thinks it would prevent Merrillville from expanding the community center.

Supporters of the volleyball club proposal have said the club is willing to invest between $3 million and $4 million in the construction of the club's new facility. That building could produce about $85,000 annually in property taxes if it’s built.

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