Municipal group receives legislative update

Big store assessment appeals, taxes, 5g cell towers and emissions testing were among the hot topics as three local state legislators met with community leaders at their 16-plus meeting on Friday.

State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, acknowledged that many communities across the state are concerned about the legislation that gives telecommunications companies the ability to place antennas on poles on public property to upgrade their wireless connectivity to 5g, evn though it may be years away.

“AT&T in particular is looking to get it in place,” said Slager, who said the House reverted the proposed bill back to study, but it ended up passing anyway.

Hobart Councilman John Brezik, D-5th, said there are health and safety concerns with the towers, as well as an aesthetics issue.

There will be many smaller towers placed closer together instead of the larger towers now used.

“We at the local level spend so much time worrying about small details, like plantings and facades. This would allow someone to come in and drop a pole somewhere we worked so hard on,” said Hobart Councilman Dave Vinzant, D-4th.

Slager said the 16-plus group of local government leaders is a good group to get a conversation going with telecommunications companies on the concerns.

“Once 5g gets on board, your residents will want it,” Slager said.

The local leaders expressed their concern over the assessment appeals being won by big box stores such as Meijer’s and Kohl’s, and the tax revenue lost as a result.

State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said the issue wasn’t on her radar.

State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, said they would need to look at the assessing procedures.

With taxes lost to the reassessments, Vinzant questioned whether there was any discussion about a food and beverage tax and what it could be used for, including a convention center.

Slager said there are some communities in Northwest Indiana that want to use a food and beverage tax to pay for police.

“If you allow people to pay a tax that they get no benefit from, I’m against that,” Slager said.

He said before anyone gets behind a community center in Lake County and taxes to pay for it, there would need to be a plan in place on what it would cost and what the center would be, the type of tax needed to build the center would need to be determined and there needs to be a sunset provision ensuring the tax will end at one point.

Regarding vehicle emissions testing, Niemeyer urged the local political leaders to do what they could to push to have the testing requirement end in Lake and Porter counties.

He said a summer study session is planned on the issue.

“We need to pay $10 million a year to do this testing in Lake and Porter counties. This is taxpayer money,” Niemeyer said.

He said only 13 percent of the vehicles in the two counties fail the test.

Karen Caffarini is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.