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

City plan commissions to expand TIF district 

By Sean McNab
Star Staff Writer

Crown Point - Mayor Metros made a stop Monday to head a public meeting of the Plan Commission to approve expansion its present TIF District south and east on Broadway to include the intersection of Interstate 65 and U.S. 231.
    The purpose of the petition is to create a viable market for commercial business ventures that previously have been unsuccessful.
    "We are planning to expand our TIF District with the hopes in the future to have enough commercial involvement to eliminate residential in that area."
    The stumbling block that has hindered development in the past has been proximity of sewer and water utilities.
    "Every time we go to the County they ask if we have sewer and water utilities. And every time asked we have always responded we will have it in six months. Once they hear that, as we walk out the door, they scratch Crown Point off the list for monetary backing," explained City Engineer Jeff Ban.
    Presently the district's only development is a gas station.
    "If we do not make some changes now, this issue will still be a problem when our children and grandchildren get older," stated Mayor James Metros.
    The proposal is to eliminate the present TIF district (which had a previous maturity date of Dec. 31, 2011) from that of 12 years to 4 years (Feb. 28, 2004).
    "The challenge is to balance the interest of all parties. Now that we have the horsepower available we can use creative financing to pay off the outstanding bonds," explained Greg Guerrettaz, the President of the Financial Solutions Group who is the numerical guru behind this proposition.
    The entire proposal has a monetary tab of $5.1 million that include possibilities of expansions on 109th Avenue and Mississippi Street as well as the construction of a new water tower.
    By paying off the debt to the present TIF district, this would possibly eliminate an annual $73,000 loss that the Merrillville incur. Moreover, it would do away with the $800,000 interest pay out the city would have to responsible for if the bonds were paid at maturity.
    This venture would put $6 million more on the tax roll for the residents of the city whereas before in TIF, the taxes were put back into the infrastructure within the district.
    Plan Commission member Pamela Roth voiced her satisfaction with this new proposal stating that "this feels as if a great burden has been taken off her shoulders."
    Merrillville Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lux stated afterward "that this change is encouraging to the Merrillville schools system but I really haven't had time to sit down and look at the intricacies of the proposal. Paying off the present TIF District, though, in four years is definitely better than 12!"
    The Plan Commission Board voted unanimously 7-0 to pass the resolution to adopt the I-65/U.S. 231 intersection as part of the new TIF District for Crown Point in the year 2004.
    This will now be heard at the next city Town Council Meeting on April 3.

Breaking Ground
New school gets a big kick-off with balloons and speeches
By Andrew Steele
Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT - Supporters of a new Crown Point High School celebrated the start of the $68 million project on Friday with a groundbreaking ceremony that included music and speeches, the ceremonial turning of dirt, and a release of balloons by members of the first class that will spend four years in the building.
    Superintendent H. Steve Sprunger called it a "celebration of what we have accomplished over the past 12 years."
    That's when a study commissioned by then-superintendent Charles Skurka argued that the school corporation needed a new high school.
    Skurka, called "a visionary leader" by Sprunger, attended the event and addressed the hundreds of community members.
    "Even though our first attempts failed, it planted the seeds of need," he said.
    Skurka said he thought architect Armstrong, Torseth, Skold and Rydeen, which is also designing a new high school in Skurka's school system in Wausau, Wisc., had created an excellent design.
    "These will be exciting times ... as this site develops," Skurka said.
    Mayor James Metros thanked the people involved in getting the project underway.
    "While brick and mortar doesn't necessarily mean a better education, technology and classroom size does," Metros said. "To ever say that money would be wasted on education would be foolishness."
    State Rep. Robert Kuzman, D-Crown Point, added that "what we're doing today is to build the future of Crown Point."
    Two students also addressed the crowd. Tim Kacmar, a high school senior, said the new school will provide better technology and allow a better curriculum for future students.
    "My class's missed opportunity will not be missed again," Kacmar said.
    Eighth-grader Jena Dines offered her thoughts in an essay.
    "It is great to know the people of Crown Point care," she said. "As a community I feel we've earned the new high school."
    School Board President Jackie Webster aimed her remarks at the young people in the audience, particularly the fifth-graders who will be the first class to spend four years at the new high school.
    "It was for you we gave it our all," she told them, noting that the effort began the year they were born.
    Webster encouraged the fifth-graders to seize the opportunity the new school will provide, then the group of about 25 students released red and white balloons into the air, and the band and cheerleaders performed the high school fight song.
    Work at the 121-acre site had been underway two weeks by Friday's ceremony. The house and most of the trees that once stood on the property were gone, and "the ground has already started to move," noted Sprunger.
    Work crews had also erected several small brick monuments that will allow officials to choose the kind of brick they want used on the school.



Council passes budget

By Andrew Steele
Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT - The County Council finally passed a 2000 budget Tuesday after a series of increasingly contentious meetings over previous weeks.
    The council had originally approved a budget last year, but an advertising problem forced a new vote, and subsequent problems with the county's new computer accounting system delayed that vote as officials and staff members tried to get an accurate picture of the county's finances.
    The council had approved most of the budget categories Friday, but waited until Tuesday for the $87 million general fund.
    And that required "borrowing" $2.6 million from the cumulative fund used to replace county bridges. The loan must be paid back by the end of the year.
    At the Friday meeting, tempers flared over the question of whether officials' inability to reconcile accounts from the last two months of 1999 was due to a new computer system or due to workers' inability to use it.
    "The Lawson (computer) system is not producing the information I need," said the councils financial advisor, Dante Rondelli.
    Rondelli said the system was designed to handle regular business accounting procedures, not the fund-based system governments use.
    But Rondelli also said there have been "massive amounts of data entry errors" on the part of the Lake County Auditor's staff.
    Auditor Peter Benjamin laid the blame on the Lawson system, though.
    "I don't have a lot of confidence in this system," he said.
    Benjamin said he wanted people from Lawson to tailor it to the county's needs, then for the county to hire someone to oversee its operation.
    Data entry errors have been made, Benjamin acknowledged, but "the reason a lot of mistakes are being made is just the difficulty of using the system."
   County computer consultant Mark Pearman objected to claims the Lawson system was at fault.
    "This is the Twilight Zone," he said of Benjamin's comments.
    Pearman said the problems that have come up with the Lawson system are being addressed, but said the auditor's staff was resisting learning the system.
    "You've got a long-term problem here and it's not going to go away," he said.
    Later, Pearman told the council that there are "auditor's bookkeepers who won't touch the (computer) unless someone from Lawson tell them to hit the key."
    An angry Council President Will Smith, D-Gary, tried to end the spat by saying, "we clearly know where the problem lies.
    "The problem lies in the auditor's office" where there was "gross mismanagement of data entry," Smith said.
    Facing uncertainty over the final General Fund balance, the council put off a decision until Tuesday.
    By then, Rondelli said the Lawson system was working adequately, and the problems had been "a blessing in disguise."
     Meanwhile, council members have begun discussing ways to repay the $2.6 million loan, including a county employee attrition ordinance that was being considered late Tuesday.
    Other options, to be discussed at a work session Saturday, include a severance payment offer of $10,000 to veteran county workers who voluntarily resign, or forced across-the-board cuts of 3 percent in every county department.

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