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Tax abatements tops city agenda
By Andrew Steele
Star Managing Editor

   CROWN POINT - The new City Council tackled the issue of tax abatements at its first meeting on Monday, voting to expand the city's economic revitalization area, where tax abatements may be awarded, to an 8.8-acre parcel east of the Balemaster plant and south of Troutwine Estates.
Attorney Bruce Lambka, representing property owner Dan Jordan and local developers Tim Heidbreder and Vince Buscemi, said one business would bring 165 jobs to the property, but only if an abatement is granted.
    The council had originally considered the request in December, but was reluctant to act because the developers would not give details on what kind of business would locate at the site, which will be divided into two parcels, one 5 acres the other 3.3.
    Lambka argued that the expansion of the economic revitalization area did not grant a tax abatement, it simply made that possible. The council would have detailed information on the business when the final decision on abatement is made he said.
    But Lambka said without the first vote, "we can't even make meaningful negotiations with a (property) purchaser."
    Jordan said that tax abatement was a small price to pay for the potential development.
    An abatement discounts property taxes due on improvements made to a piece of property. In the first year of the abatement, the taxes on improvements are reduced 100 percent. The reduction decreases 10 percent per year, until the property owner is paying full taxes in the eleventh year.
    "If you don't invite the people in and give them some incentive, you're not going to get them," Jordan argued.
Mayor James Metros agreed.
    "You're giving away a little to get a lot," he said. The council agreed unanimously to expand the economic revitalization area, though Councilman James Wirtz, R-at large, expressed reservations.
"I do feel a little bit weak on this," he said, "but I will yield to this first stage."
Wirtz said he hoped no abatements would be granted to a business that competed with an already-established business.
    Deliberation over the tax abatement issue continued with the council's consideration of statements of benefit from three businesses that have abatements.
The businesses must submit a statement detailing benefits to the community - in the form of increased jobs and salaries - each year the abatement is in effect.
Each of the three statements considered Monday reported benefits lower than the businesses estimated when the tax abatements were granted, causing some concern among council members.
   But Lambka pointed out that two of them - at 500 and 510 Foote St. - are on old lumber yard property, and the renovation of that property is itself a benefit to the community, however many employees work there.
    Metros agreed that those abatements reflected the original intention of abatements, to revitalize blighted areas.
But "now, communities are so competitive, we take vacant land and abate it," he noted.
    While the statements of benefit presented Monday were accepted, officials agreed that the city should set some minimum standards for future abatements, and expected businesses to fulfill those.
    In other business, the council approved a specialuse variance that will allow Hawk Development Corp. to put 76 duplex units on 38 lots into Whitehawk subdivision.
    The plan had been approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals last week.
Each duplex unit will sell for around $250,000, Hawk attorney Richard Anderson said.
    Detailed plans must now be approved by the Plan Commission and City Council.
    Hawk hopes to begin construction this spring, and expects to take four years before all units are built, Anderson said.
Also Monday, the council approved the rezoning of 23 acres on the city's east side from A-1 agricultural to R-1 residential.
    The property, the old Miller Farm, is located north of Niles Creek subdivision in the newly annexed east side.
    Tom Simstad intends to develop a low-density subdivision on the land.
    Houses there will use septic systems for sewage and wells for water. The council approved the rezone on the condition that future homeowners in the subdivision be required to hook up to city water and sewers if those utilities are extended to that area.
    The council will hold a second and final vote on the rezone next month.
Mayor highlights city's achievements

Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT - Mayor James Metros reported Monday on the city's achievements in his annual "State of the City" address at the City Council's first meeting of the new year.
    "The positive steps taken by this city are a reflection of the cooperative efforts between my administration, the members of our City Council, dedicated department heads, and a team effort by city employees," he said in the 14-minute address.
    Metros reported that the city's total construction value in 1999 more than doubled from 1998's. He said $83.9 million in new construction was undertaken last year.
    He also said a number of infrastructure projects will move ahead in 2000.
    The design for straightening the 109 Ave. s-curve is complete and bidding is expected for June; a new stoplight should be installed at 97 Ave. and Main Street this spring; and stormwater and drainage projects will be undertaken.
    "The engineering study for the old Beasor Valley area will be completed

in April of this year and we will utilize that information to create a comprehensive approach to managing this decades-old problem of flooding," Metros said.
Also, "we will begin the expansion of utilities to 1-65 and U.S. 231 to begin the process of attracting development that will set a higher standard for our community as well as provide a long-needed tax base to boost our economy."
    The city completed its shift to Lake Michigan water this year, the mayor noted, and used a new video camera to view the conditions of over 1,000 feet of sewer.
    The old sludge lagoons at the water treatment plant have been converted to storage areas for leaves and wood chips and the city is currently studying city-wide compostlng, Metros said.
    The city continues to sustain a low crime rate, and will be able to hire three new police officers this year, he said.
    Grants, donations and funds seized on the state and federal level have helped the Police Department stay within its budget, Metros noted.
    The Parks and Recreation Department continues to expand, he said.
    "More than 500 residents and nonresidents participated in our parks programs," Metros said. "New programs
 included 'Mom's Time Out' and 'Park Pixies' for toddlers, cheerleading, sign language for children, drama for youth, junior photography, tae-bo for women, and cooking for kids."
    Metros also said he wants to develop a closer relationship with the school corporation.
    Long-term planning is also a goal. "I look forward to beginning the process of developing a long-term fiscal plan for our community, with input from our school corporation, Chamber of Commerce and citizens."
    Metros said officials should concentrate on balancing economic growth with maintaining Crown Point's traditional character.
    "One of our goals should be to keep the small town atmosphere where neighbors talk to neighbors and preserve the historical character of our community while moving forward and providing the type of economic development that will make us a leader of Northwest Indiana."
City welcomes its new officials
Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT - Eight city officials took the oath of office Thursday evening in a ceremony during which Mayor James Metros said the new city government's goal should be to "make Crown Point the best it can be" and help "restore people's faith in government.''
Metros was administered his third oath of office by Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo in the courtroom on the third floor of the old Lake County Courthouse.
City Judge Herman Barber administered the oath to Clerk-Treasurer Janis Flutka and City Council members Paul Bremer, R-1st, Stephen Farley, R-2nd Pamela Roth, R-3rd, Willian Condron, R-4th, Robert Corbin, R-5th and Michael Conquest, R-at large James Wirtz, the other at-large council member, did not attend the event.
    Metros said he hoped a spirit o cooperation would continue among city officials, three of whom - Flutka, Farley and Condron - are new to elect ed office.
    "We learned what bipartisanship was about these last four years,' Metros said in a speech following the oaths.
    Booming construction, low crime rates, the east-side sewer, Lake Michigan water and rules for development along the Broadway corridor highlight the city's good news, he said.
    In the coming term, development at -65 and U.S. 231 that will shift some ff the property tax burden off of residents is key, Metros said, along with providing the best services possible.
    But Metros talked most about workng together and setting examples.
    "The greatest challenge is to look backwards (to) when the word 'truth' meant something, when the word honor' meant something."
    The event concluded with Metros wearing-in Fire-Rescue Chief John Gettler, Police Chief Michael Valsi, and Civil Defense Director Sheryl Laney. State statute requires those officials take an oath.


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