MICHIGAN CITY – It’s official: The Michigan City Redevelopment Commission will be allowed to take out $5.39 million in tax increment financing bonds to fund a portion of the city’s local match for the South Shore Line’s Double Track project.
The Michigan City Common Council approved a resolution on Tuesday allowing the move by a vote of 7-1.
"I think that this resolution is one of the most important resolutions in the history of this city,” said Councilman Tim Bietry, who authored it.
Bietry said the decision was actually approved in June 2017, but was back before the council for finalization.
"This issue to me is a simple one,” he said before the vote. “It's a question of integrity. Does Michigan City have integrity, or doesn't it? Will we keep our word, or won't we? A 'no' vote on this resolution or a vote to table sends the wrong message that we are indecisive and untrustworthy.
"We need to send a strong message tonight that, yes, we can be counted on; we can be trusted; and we will honor our pledge."
Thirty people spoke about the project during a public hearing on the resolution – only one of them to expressed opposition to the project.
Tom Smith, a resident of the Westside neighborhood, said the double track project will displace him from his home and cost him money. He claimed he will be forced to pay the difference for a home of the same square footage in any other area in town, as Westside property values tend to be considerably lower than most in Michigan City.
Smith also expressed skepticism that the project will be completed by 2023 as recently promised by NICTD. And he questioned why no public officials have raised concerns over the fact that local income tax payments would be used to repay the bonds in the event that the South Side TIF funds couldn’t.
“If you aren’t mad, you aren’t paying attention,” Smith said. “… This project has taken my home away from me. It is tearing my life apart like 11th Street is going to be torn apart."
Conversely, resident Kevin Brown, whose Franklin Street property was already turned over because of eminent domain due to the Double Track project, offered his full support.
He said that while he didn’t get rich off the deal, he also didn’t “get screwed.” In fact, he said, he received assistance in moving to his new property, which has twice the square footage of his old place.
One by one, nearly two dozen more local and area residents took to the mic to express their support.
County Councilman Mark Yagelski, a Michigan City resident, said he served on the NICTD board for 17 years and recalls talks about such a project coming through Michigan City over the course of three separate mayoral administrations.
“We don't see economic development money come here,” he said. “If we don't take advantage of this, and take the money and the opportunity that we have ... we're not going to go anywhere in this town."
Ultimately, the Common Council agreed.
"I don't think unprecedented is too strong a word to describe the cooperation that we've had between the government, the state government, the county and the municipalities,” Councilwoman Sharon Carnes said.
“This is a regional project that's going to bring an outsized return on Michigan City's investment. … I supported this proposal in 2017. I still believe in those goals. And I urge my fellow council people to follow through with the commitment that they made in 2017.”
Councilman Ron Hamilton, who represents the Third Ward, where the Westside neighborhood lies, was the only opposing vote.
As was explained at this month’s RDC meeting and again to the Common Council on Tuesday, each of the four counties through which the South Shore Line runs agreed in 2017 to provide $18.25 million matches to the project.
Because Michigan City stands to benefit from the project more strongly than other La Porte County municipalities, it agreed to provide $12.2 million of the local match.
Of that amount, $5.39 million will come from TIF bonds, and the remainder will come from cash on hand via the city’s South Side TIF.