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Feature Stories for January 4, 2001

The STAR is distributed every Thursday.  
The Crown Point Network offers a sneak preview of weekly cover stories.

Diluted gun law passes

By Kathie Godfrey 
Star Correspondent

LOWELL - The Town Council gave preliminary approval to a somewhat diluted amendment to its firearms ordinance last week in response to protests earlier this month that many residents (and non-residents) feared the loss of their right to bear arms on town property. 
   The objections of more than 100 attendees were sparked at a council meeting two weeks ago when the town had considered a draft amendment that would have prohibited the carrying of firearms on all town-owned property, including the Town Hall, town parks and municipal parking lots. 
    The amendment as it currently stands will make it unlawful to carry a firearm into the Town Hall only when the Town Court is in session, with exceptions for duly-authorized judicial and police officers and members of the armed forces. 
    With promised revisions the new ordinance will also give the nod to "sanctioned shoots" as approved by Police Chief David Wilson. 
    The new amendment follows a Dec. 19 meeting between Wilson and residents Paul Anderson, Craig Earley and others during which concerns for the future of backyard archery and air rifle team practice within town limits were addressed. 
    Anderson, a 4-H shooting sports coordinator and member of the Traffic Commission, said he felt the rewritten amendment was acceptable, but would still like to see a couple of issues addressed. 
    "I don't feel this would infringe on my rights as a citizen of Lowell," he said. 
    Wilson said the amended ordinance would protect residents' rights. 
    "This will permit activities that would have been stopped to continue," he said in reference to sanctioned shooting in town. 
    Earley again questioned why any changes to the original ordinance were needed. 
    "I've had a concealed carry permit for 20 years and my 8-year-old son feels safe when we visit the parks because of it," he said following the meeting. 
    Wilson, however, said he has concerns about enforcement of the ordinance with regard to gang members who could lawfully carry guns into town parks. 
    "We've made some arrests in town of people who said they were gang members," he explained Tuesday. "We should have an ordinance that is enforceable if we need it. The original ordinance was written in 1917. We need to do something." 
    Wilson said more recommendations to the council will be forthcoming. 
    In other business, the council narrowly passed the 2001 salary ordinance with a 3-2 vote. 
    Dissenting council members Karen Brooker (R-2nd) and Ray Talarek (R-1st) both said salary hikes of $900 for councilmen and $1,000 for the council president and the clerk-treasurer's salary of $48,000 were "excessive." 
    "I would have approved a smaller increase," Talarek said. 
    Brooker, who had compared the salaries of town personnel in similar communities, said she would like to hold the annual increases to 3 percent or less.


New law to make tax deals tougher

By Andrew Steele 
Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT - The City Council is reviewing a new procedure for awarding tax abatements that officials hope will allow a stricter application of the criteria they demand of companies that request the tax breaks. 
    The new procedure will require business owners to fill out an application and pay a $250 non-refundable fee at the clerk-treasurer's office, then pay an additional fee to cover the costs of the annual review if a tax abatement is awarded. The latter fee is refundable if no abatement is granted. 
    The next step is for a new Economic Advisory Council to hold a hearing to review the application. The council will be made up of the mayor, planning director, city engineer, city attorney, and financial consultant. 
    The council will file a written report within 15 days of its hearing, and the City Council's Human Resources and Economic Development Committee will then consider the abatement. 
    That body will review the application and make a recommendation to the full City Council. 
    The council will then make a decision on awarding an abatement. 
    "You are totally flexible at that point as to any stipulations you want to place on that abatement," City Attorney John Kopack said at the council's Dec. 27 meeting. 
    Tax abatements discount the city's portion of property taxes on personal property. The abatements have in the past been awarded for 10 years, with the discount declining by 10 percent each year. 
    Once an abatement is granted, the City Council reviews it each year to make sure the business has fulfilled its commitments for such things as employment and payroll. 
    Council members wanted to review the ordinance before giving it final approval. Among other things, concern was expressed about the fee level. 
    For a business asking for a 10-year abatement, a $1,150 fee would be required upfront. While $900 of that would be refunded if that abatement were not granted, some council members were afraid some businesses would be deterred from applying for an abatement. 
    The council will hold a final vote on the ordinance at its Jan. 8 meeting.



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