INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate agreed Monday to postpone until 2021 a state mandate for eight Northwest Indiana counties to pay for flood control improvements along the Kankakee and Yellow rivers.
House Bill 1270 was amended at the request of state Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, to push the start of the funding obligation one year further out after he said local officials raised concerns about beginning to collect the revenue in 2020.
"Right now we've got $2.3 million in the (state) budget, and that's going to get us started," Niemeyer said.
The revised legislation, which is set for Senate approval Tuesday, aims to generate approximately $3 million a year for 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.
It requires Lake, Porter, LaPorte, St. Joseph, Newton, Jasper, Starke and Marshall counties to pay an annual fee, now starting in 2021, to a reconstituted Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission, based on how much land in each county drains into the rivers.
Alternatively, the legislation permits the counties to impose a special assessment on each parcel of property in the river basins, after the commission holds at least two public hearings in each county detailing the specific projects for which the money will be spent.
The measure provides that the maximum allowable assessment is $1 per acre for farmland, $7 for a residential parcel, $50 for commercial and $360 for industrial or utility.
Niemeyer believes Lake, Porter, Newton and Jasper counties raise enough money through their drainage levy to make their flood control contribution without imposing a new assessment on property owners, and he hopes leaders in the four other counties only will apply the assessment as a last resort.