INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday that could require many Northwest Indiana home, farm and business owners to pay an extra fee on their property tax bills, beginning in 2021.
House Bill 1270 mandates the eight Region counties adjacent to the Kankakee and Yellow rivers to annually provide funds, based on how much land in each county drains into the rivers, to a reconstituted Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission for badly needed flood control improvements.
The annual fee for each county would be: Lake $428,298; Porter $300,941; LaPorte $707,624; Newton $103,645; Jasper $190,138; Marshall $586,168; St. Joseph $377,882; and Starke $295,469, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
Under the plan, officials in each county could use existing tax revenue to cover the fee, or impose a special assessment on each parcel of property located in the river basins.
The maximum allowable assessment is $1 per acre for farmland, $7 for a residential parcel, $50 for commercial and $360 for industrial or utility, according to the legislation.
State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, said the Kankakee River, in particular, has been neglected for the past 75 years, and urgently needs river bank stabilization, channel reconstruction, sediment removal, water storage and other projects to prevent a repeat of last year's devastating floods in southern Lake and Porter counties.
That work initially will be commenced later this year using $2.3 million allocated to the commission in the two-year state budget, House Bill 1001.
But should the fee proposal become law, following re-approval by the House and the governor's endorsement, then the new, nine-member commission, led by former state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, would get approximately $3 million a year to spend on flood prevention work.
"Hopefully this is a real solution-maker for this area, and maybe other areas of the state can look at what happened here and they can use part of this," Niemeyer said.
Porter County Commissioner Jeff Good, a Republican, said he supports the flood prevention concept, but objects to how the fee was added to the measure by the Senate, seemingly on the sly, after the House approved just a simple commission restructuring.
"This is a big project and I think it was put together hastily," Good said. "There was no outreach, there was nothing."
"I hope some calmer minds and smarter minds can come to some kind of conclusion that makes sense from an engineering and a revenue standpoint. We're not interested in funding ideas. We're interested in funding plans. And right now there's no plan, and any time you put funding ahead of having a plan, to me that's a recipe for disaster."