MERRILLVILLE — The estimated cost to construct a new community center hasn't been determined, but town officials have been discussing a potential bond issue to help fund the development.
Recent discussions have involved pursuing a tax increment financing district bond of $14.9 million.
Town Council President Richard Hardaway said Merrillville hasn't finalized the amount of the potential bond because town leaders are waiting for a final cost estimate for the construction of the center that will be located on land Merrillville has acquired in the 6600 block of Broadway.
“We still haven't got there yet,” Hardaway said.
A bond issue of $15 million or more would require a referendum to determine if it could advance.
Hardaway said Merrillville is looking to keep the size of the bond below that amount because of uncertainties associated with a referendum.
Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey said he isn't opposed to the community center, but he believes a large bond should go to a referendum.
“A referendum would provide the taxpayers an opportunity to decide by vote,” he said.
If they are in favor of it, then he's comfortable with the town moving forward with the matter.
If the total amount of the bond is less than $15 million, residents could make public comment about the issue, but the council would have the final decision regarding the debt.
Guernsey said he has concerns about the possible financial effects a bond could have on Merrillville and services provided by the municipality.
The town has pursued smaller bond issues in past years to fund road paving projects. Guernsey said there could be less funding available for that type of work if Merrillville approves the community center bond.
Spires said the bond wouldn't affect town services because it would be repaid with TIF district money, which is different from funding sources used to operate town departments. Using TIF funding for the bond also means the debt wouldn't increase property taxes, Spires said.
Hardaway agrees a TIF bond won't affect property taxes, and he wouldn't pursue a funding method that would.
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“I'm adamantly opposed to raising property taxes,” Hardaway said. “I will not support anything that would raise property taxes.”
Guernsey said Merrillville is receiving less in property taxes than it has in previous years, which contributes to his concerns about a potential bond. A variety of factors have caused the reduction in property tax money, including the demolition of the Radisson Hotel, Star Plaza Theatre and Twin Towers, he said. There also are pending property tax assessment appeals involving big-box stores in town.
Although Merrillville isn't receiving the property taxes it once was from the White Lodging property at U.S. 30 and Interstate 65, there is a proposal for an enormous development there.
White Lodging created plans for The Farm at Crossroad Commons project, a $350 million multiuse development that could feature a meeting and events center as well as hotels and restaurants.
If completely developed, town officials estimate, the site could produce $6 million to $7 million annually in property taxes.
Such a development could take years to complete, town officials said.
Although Merrillville leaders haven't made final decisions about the design and funding methods for the community center, Hardaway hopes the construction could get underway by the end of the year or in early 2020.
The center, which would provide expanded programs and activities for residents, is expected to produce a variety of benefits, he said
Town leaders view it as a way to attract more businesses to the Broadway corridor.
Councilman Shawn Pettit said a volleyball club has expressed interest in purchasing a maximum of 4 acres of town-owned property to open a facility adjacent to the community center. The club has indicated it is willing to invest between $3 million and $4 million in the construction of a new facility. The new building could produce about $85,000 annually in property taxes if it advances.
Hardaway said the community center also would improve the quality of life in town and help bring new residents to Merrillville.
He said if officials want to promote Merrillville as a destination for families, the town must provide programs and activities in which children and adults can participate.
“We want to be progressive,” Hardaway said.