02 Jun 2017

LaPorte County allocates double track funds

South Shore News

LAPORTE — LaPorte County government is paying its entire share of the cost for the proposed upgrades to the South Shore commuter line with cash up front, and Michigan City's $12.1 million share received preliminary approval this week. The estimated $290 million project still hinges on the federal government approving funding for one-half the entire cost. The LaPorte County Council unanimously decided Tuesday to take $5 million out of the county's major bridge fund and the remaining $1.1 million from the county's emergency reserve fund to cover its portion of the expense.

"This is a one time and one time only," LaPorte County Councilman Mark Yagelski said. Local governments are limited by how much debt they can have at any one time, so paying now means preserving the bonding capacity for any major facility needs or unexpected emergencies that might arise, Yagelski said. About $500,000 in property tax proceeds annually goes into the major bridge fund, which will have about $4.5 million remaining if the project happens, he said.

The emergency reserve fund, primarily casino money, would have about a $4 million balance, Yagelski said. On Wednesday, the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission unanimously approved its $12.1 million share of the cost. RDC President Don Babcock said $6.7 million would be paid for up front with the remaining $5.39 million financed over a 30-year period. Money from the tax increment financing district on the city's south side will cover both the initial payment and financing, he said.

The TIF fund replenishes itself with property tax dollars generated by growth from within TIF boundaries. "It's such a phenomenal project for the area, and the good part is we found a way to get it done," Babcock said. Babcock said paying the entire amount up front wouldn't have left ample TIF funds for major projects on the city's south side, like improvements to Ohio Street from 400 North to U.S 20, along with Cleveland Avenue and Franklin Street. Because bonding is involved, approval of the financing is required by the City Council, which already has approved the concept for the project. Its vote on the financing plan is expected Tuesday.

Read the full article by Stan Maddux here at NWI Times.