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Tax break standards on the way

Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT -- After granting 55 tax abatements over the last decade and a half, city officials are moving towards establishing standards for awarding the tax breaks.
     At a meeting Feb. 10, financial consultant Greg Guerrettaz appeared before the City Council to discuss a report that recommends the city use a new, more informative application form, and institute a point system to determine whether an abatement benefits the city.
     The new system is also intended to allow city officials to evaluate the performance of businesses that are granted abatements.
     "The overall key to this program ... is having some follow-up," Guerrettaz said.
     Property owners who apply for abatements are required to estimate the property's value, the number of employees they are bringing to the city and their business payroll.
     If an abatement is granted, the local property taxes on the owner's new building are reduced, normally for 10 years.      The first year the taxes are reduced 100 percent, and in subsequent years they are reduced in declining amounts until the owner receives a 5 percent reduction in the tenth year.
     Abatements are granted in designated "economic revitalization areas." The idea is to attract businesses to an area they otherwise would not come to.
     "There have been some abatements that have been fabulous for the city," Guerrettaz said.
     But making sure the abatements are bringing the promised benefits throughout their lives proves difficult.
     Guerrettaz's system would total up the benefits to the city by awarding points for assessed valuation, employment, and other positive features of a new building.
     City officials also want to be firmer about approving the required annual "statement of benefits," which property owners must bring before the council reporting employment, payroll, and other facts about the businesses.
     Approving the statement has been routine in past years, but council members want to tighten the review procedure and hold property owners to their original promises.
    Mayor James Metros said wants to set up a committee of himself and two council members to review the abatements in advance of full council meetings.
     City officials also want to investigate the possibility of penalizing a business that leaves the city by collecting some of the taxes that have been abated.
     Other concerns included Councilman James Wirtz's (R-at large) that tax abatements have been awarded to new businesses that compete directly with established ones.
     "We're giving a new competitor an advantage," he said.
      Councilman William Condron (R-4th) said the abatement helps the new business meet start-up costs that the existing business may not have faced.

Opening packs the new center

Star Staff Writer

GARY -- Eleven years ago the administration at Indiana University Northwest (IUN) had a vision to expand the campus with the hopes of creating a building that could house extracurricular activities as well as academic functions. This dream became a reality this Tuesday, Feb. 8, with the Grand Opening of the campuses newest addition -- the Academic Activities Building.
    Former Chancellor Hilda Richards spoke to the crowd of over 400 by saying, "This is a wonderful day for this campus. We have been looking forward for many years to seeing the creation of the Academic Activities Building. It has taken four chancellors to get to where we are today but it was worth the wait !'
    The building itself, located on the corner of 33rd Ave. and Broadway, includes everything from a new gymnasium to a new bookstore to a 321-seat auditorium.
    Chancellor Dr. Bruce W. Bergland said, "Our new gymnasium contains four collegiate-size basketball courts -- our main court facing north to south and 3 cross courts east and west. We have a suspended running track overlooking the gymnasium floor with an adjacent exercise room that includes 24 stations and free weights. The building's auditorium will be used for musical recitals, guest speakers, and film presentations. Finally, we have partitioned rooms throughout the building that will include a larger bookstore, an office for the campus paper, "Gallery Northwest," a computer lab, a Women's Center, numerous seminar rooms, and an aerobics room."
    Bergland continued by saying that the underlying locus on the new building and the school as a whole is that of a "community campus."
    "There are two local points that we, the administration, feel are essential for growth at this campus. The first is that we need to continually instill the idea that this is a 'community campus.'   This new building can be used as a locus for upcoming events and amplify community spirit.   Secondly, this building signifies a sign of rededication to the community of Gary. We want all to be involved in this newest gift on our campus and, thus, have planned to open our running during the morning hours of 6 a.m. through 8 a.m. to anyone who wants to use it."

    Moreover, the city's mayor, Scott King, was openly appreciative of the positive reflection the school has had on the rest of the community.
    "IUN has proven to be a wonderful citizen for the city of Gary. It is an epicenter of the city and we are gratefully indebted to the strides it has made within the community. IUN realizes that the campus as well as this building is more than just another establishment within the city. It is for everyone, and because of this, we are continually witnessing this city becoming greater and greater everyday."
Former student and present faculty member, State Representative Vernon Smith reminisced about the long and arduous process the institution had to go through to finally get to its present-day completion.
"The administration had to get the approval of both the state legislature and budget committees after which the petition had to be signed by the Governor. Moreover, I have done some research and have found that the state has appropriated over $45 million for the improvement of this campus over the last 12 years."
    Each presenter concluded his/her remarks with the proud chant of "GO REDHAWKS!" of which is the new school name for the IUN campus.
    Sophomore Sam Hamod, who is presently a guard on the school's basketball team, explained the reasoning of choosing the name "redhawk" as the team's nickname.
    "The redhawk is a native bird to this area and, thus, is why it was choose. From there student Cory Woods drew the logo that we will now be known as."
    The grand opening ceremony culminated at 6:30 p.m. with the men's basketball team hosting it's archrival, the Purdue North Central (PNC) Centaurs. Down 13-2 to start the game, the Redhawks battled back for a hard-fought 73-69 win pushing its record to 8-24.
Board awards new school contracts

Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT -- The School Board on Monday awarded the first contracts for the new high school project.
     The board accepted bids from Superior Construction of Gary to do excavation and foundation work for $4.12 million, and from C & C Iron of Merrillville to do steel work lot $3.4 million.
     Seven other companies bid on the foundation work, four others on the steel work, and one company made a combined bid for both jobs, said Pat Portteus of the construction management firm Skillman Corp.
     Portteus said he was satisfied with the outcome of the bidding process. 
     "Both contractors are local contractors; both are more than qualified to accomplish the work," he said. Also, "the total of the bids comes in less than we anticipated for this portion of the job."
     Portteus said his company is working with C & C Iron on school projects in Porter County. Also, the company has done school work in Hanover.
     As for Superior, "this is the first time we've seen them bid on a school project,'' he said.
     Portteus said references on each company were checked by his firm. 
     Work is expected to begin at the new high school site, located southeast of the intersection of Main Street and Burrell Drive, in about two weeks, Portteus said.
     School officials are planning a ceremonial groundbreaking for Mar. 10.
     The board approved awarding the contracts 4-0, with Bart AleIlo abstaining.
     Bid packets on the remainder of the project will be sent out March 23, Portteus said, and bids will be accepted May 2. He expects contracts to be awarded May 22.
      Also Monday, the board listened to a report from officials of William Brown and Co., which handled the recent bond sale for the new school project.
     Hennessy said the average tax property owners will pay over the life of the 25-year bond issue is $1.82 per $100 of assessed valuation. The average for all school corporation debt over that period will be $2.22.

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