Council approves double-track funding

News-Dispatch

MICHIGAN CITY — Members of the Michigan City Common Council approved the city's funding portion of the $290 million South Shore double-track project on Tuesday night with a 6-3 vote.

The approved resolution allows the city to take money from the South Side Tax Increment Fund (TIF) and apply it to the double-track project. 

The decision was made after the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission decided to pay the remaining $6.7 million in cash and $5.39 million in a bond toward the project, satisfying the city's contribution of a little more than $12 million. That $12 million is a part of the $18.25 million in total funds that La Porte County would be responsible for. The balance was previously approved by the county. Included in the project for the city is a proposed parking structure with an estimated cost of $10 million.

Don Babcock, president of the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission, attended the meeting to encourage the council to vote in favor of this resolution.

“Today is a historic day for us to invest in the future of this great city,” he said. “I believe that this is a very small risk when compared to the potential gain.”

Babcock went on to explain how this investment could improve the city. He told the council that by approving this resolution, the city would gain 1,000 new jobs, $300 million in taxes, $670 million in new investments and reduce travel time to Chicago by around 30 minutes. According to Babcock, the interest rate of this investment would be 2.2 to 4 percent over time with a payback period of 20 to 21 years.

“We think this is a prudent thing to do and we think it’s a great compromise going forward,” he said.

The Redevelopment Commission also had members of the federal government on their side. According to Elizabeth Johnson, director of Projects and Planning for the office of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, Visclosky encouraged the city to pass this resolution. Johnson read a letter to the council written by Visclosky on his behalf.

“I believe the project will benefit the robust investments made to the municipal infrastructure along the lakefront and improve that quality of life for the current and future residents of Michigan City,” the letter said.

Bill Hanna, president of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, went on to add that Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, R-Indiana, are also in favor of this resolution.

Under this agreement, the city must purchase land bounded by the 10th, 11th, Franklin and Pine streets. Members of the Redevelopment Commision said the budget is flexible, but they will not know the total cost of the project until they hear the final say from the federal government.

However, not all members of the council or the audience were in favor of this resolution being passed. Michigan City resident Tom Smith attended the meeting to express his concern to the council regarding the possibility of losing his home to make way for the double-track project. He attempted to encourage the council to think their decision through before they made it.

“This is something that should be gone over slowly. I think the residents of Michigan City should be aware of what this is actually going to cost them,” he said.

City Council Vice President Donald Przybylinski was also concerned about the funding being passed. Przybylinski said he felt there should have been a workshop to discuss where the funding for various city projects should end. He added that he was in favor of the double-track project, but that he needed details on what the funding will be going toward.

“If I’m taking a vote on $12 million that’s going to affect the city and its residents," he said, "I want to know exactly what I’m voting for and the details behind it. I was told that there would be no more expenditure, that it would all be included in the project, but as we got into discussions in other avenues of the project, there is going to be further spending of funding.”

President Chris Schwanke had similar concerns.

“I was also told that all expenses were included," he said, "but when I asked about specifics, that’s an additional expense that could cost millions that is not included in the project. We need to know how to fund these projects and until we know how, i’m concerned about that.”

The resolution passed with Przybylinski, Schwanke and councilman Ron Hamilton Jr. dissenting.