HAMMOND — The City Council Monday approved a resolution providing funding for the South Shore West Lake rail extension if certain conditions are met.
The resolution, approved by an 8-1 vote, conditionally commits 15 percent of the city's share of the county's local income tax money over the next 30 years to the project. Based on the city's current take, the amount could equal a commitment of about $450,000 annually.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., however, said the amount over 30 years could equal perhaps $15 million to $20 million as tax income increases. He pointed out that the commitment is more than any other local government will be providing for the project.
The conditions that need to be met in order for Hammond to pay out the money include the inclusion of the Gateway station on the north side of the city and the inclusion of a rail yard maintenance yard at an agreed upon location in the city. In addition, the money will not be paid out until Federal Transit Authority funding is approved for the project.
Councilman Robert Markovich, D-at large, was the lone vote against the resolution. He made a motion calling for a public hearing to be held on the issue at the Aug. 14 council meeting, but it died for a lack of a second. McDermott said he thought it would be irresponsible to delay the vote that long and he and others contended the issue had already been debated for some time.
"This is the most debated issue I've ever been a part of," said McDermott after the meeting.
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Among the speakers at Monday's meeting was Julie O'Connor, of Munster, who is with a group of residents concerned about housing being acquired prior to all the funding being approved for the project. After the meeting, McDermott told O'Connor he also did not want to see property being acquired prematurely.
The resolution was crafted after negotiations between the city and representatives of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
"We're excited to have Hammond on board with the project " said NICTD General Manager Michael Noland. He said officials will now move toward submitting it to the Federal Transit Authority at the end of August.
Noland said with Hammond's commitment all the local funding is now in place for the double tracking project and the West Lake extension project, which will prove valuable in getting the needed federal funding. The Hammond commitment is not as much as originally hoped, he noted, but officials will "sharpen their pencils" and make it work.
This story has been modified from an earlier version to correct the amount of Hammond's commitment to the proposed rail project.