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Feature Stories for Thursday, August 23, 2001

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

Council mulls tap fee increase

By Sean McNab
Star Staff Writer

CEDAR LAKE - The Town Council mulled over whether or not to increase the sewer tap-in fee at its work session on Aug. 14.
      Council members were concerned that a fee increase could lead to litigation by local developers.
     "We have heard that if we raise the rate even $1 we have a good possibility that we will be taken to court," said Councilman Dana Plant.   The Northwest Indiana Builder's Association is watching to see if the rates increase or not. My suggestion is that instead of increasing the rate as much as has been suggested, maybe we should increase it in increments over a four-year span."
     The city's financial consulting firm, H.J. Umbaugh and Associates, recommended the tap-in fee be increased from $500 to $1,655.
     At a previous council meeting, representatives from Umbaugh explained to members of the public that the tap-in fee was based on the "equity each customer has with the sewer company." The consultants went on to say that the proposed fee is in line with surrounding communities'.
     A similar process took place in Schererville over the past year, when the tap-in fee was raised and then contended by the Northwest Indiana Builders Association. The city lost the case but it was then overturned by the state Supreme Court and the increase stood.
     "We are moving into a new period with regards to the sanitary sewer situation in this town," Town Attorney David Austgen stated. "Schererville has already set a precedent that if litigation is sought, we could win the case."
     Town Council President Robert Brannon, a life-long resident of Cedar Lake, said he did not understand the reasoning for the increase in sewer tap-in fees.
     "I really do not understand why the rates are being increased," he said. "As an owner of property in the town, I have always been paid well with regards to value of my property. I can say that by increasing these rates this in no way will be helping me out."
     A decision on the tap-in fee could be made at the next Town Council meeting on Aug. 28.
     In other business, Lori Dowling was named interim director of the town's Emergency Medical Services Department. Other employees were assigned to new positions.
     "A change needed to be made," said Councilman David Fritts. "We are presently searching for a director for the services and feel a full-time director will be named in the coming months."

END

Sewer discount extended 1 month

By Andrew Steele
Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT - The City Council has extended the summer sewer rate discount program through September.
According to the updated law, sewer rates for June, July, August, and September will be calculated based on water usage rates in January, February, and March.
     Because sewer rates are based on the amount of water used, and because many residents use substantial amounts of water during the summer that do not end up in the sewer system - for example, for watering lawns or filling pools - the council decided last year to use winter water-usage to calculate June through August sewer bills.
     City Councilwoman Pam Roth, R-3rd, urged the council at its regular August meeting to extend the program through September.
Council members originally considered doing the extension through September for this year only, then considering the matter each year. Instead, they made the extension permanent.
     The new law was passed at the council's Aug. 15 special meeting.

END

2002 budget development underway

By Andrew Steele
Star Managing Editor

CROWN POINT -  Mayor James Metros submitted what he called "a fat budget" to the City Council last week to start the month-long process of approving a spending plan for the year 2002.
     "I want you to assist me in making the proper cuts," Metros told the council. He said the preliminary budget reflected on increase of about 5 percent over last year.
     The budget submitted at the Aug. 15 council meeting included a total general fund of $9,149,490. With various other funds, the budget rose to $14,561,184.
     Metros said any budget cuts will likely be small ones from various line items throughout the budget.
The mayor also talked about the need for long term planning, noting that the city's financial consultant, Greg Guerrettaz, is developing a financial master plan and a capitcal improvement plan for the city.
     Among the long-term issues city officials need to look at is the condition of the Emergency Services Building, Metros said.
The building's roof has been a problem since it was built and the closed-ventilation system needs to be corrected, officials said. And mold has become a significant problem on walls and carpets and in the air.      Also, the building is too small to house all emergency vehicles.
    Metros said City Engineer Jeff Ban is preparing a report that will detail various options for the building.
     "We've gotta start planning on how we pay for that," Metros said.
     One long-considered project that may be funded this year is a set of emergency warning sirens. The Board of Public Works and Safety budget includes $80,000 for those, though shifting that to one of the "cumulative" funds, outside the general fund, was discussed.
     The money would purchase four sirens to be put in different areas of the city. They would be used to warn residents of severe weather.
     City officials are also discussing reducing the garbage subsidy for residents. Currently, residents pay only $2 per month for weekly garbage collection, though the service costs nearly $10. The balance is made up by the city, which pays about $781,000 annually.
      Councilmembers had several ideas about reducing the city's obligation, including increasing residents' monthly fee by $2; eliminating the city "subsidy" and having residents pay the full cost of trash collection; and shifting to a "pay-as-you-throw" system that would charge residents based on how much trash they throw away.
     Budget discussion continued at a Monday council meeting, and on Wednesday, the council was scheduled to consider the budget on first reading, and to hold a first reading on the elected officials salary ordinance for 2002.

END

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(219) 663-4212

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