May 26 2011

The Calumet Burns Conservancy District - Local Solutions to Local Problem

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

Anyone who is familiar with the news in Lake County knows full well the devastating impact the floods of 2008 had on the region.  Since then millions of dollars of state and federal money have been pumped into the “Little Calumet River Basin Authority” (“LCRBA”) to finish a job that should have been done twenty years ago.  To the LCRBA’s credit, construction of the levee is basically completed.  Now, our attention is being focused upon the issue of how to maintain the levee.  Who will be in charge? Who will pay for this maintenance and how much? We need to provide answers and solutions to these questions quickly, so that we never have a repeat of the 2008 disaster that struck our communities.

At this point, there are two approaches being considered.  One is to keep the LCRBA intact and in charge of assessing the required fees.  The other is a proposal being offered by the Lake County Surveyor, George Van Til.  Recently, Mr. Van Til introduced an ordinance to the Hammond City Council to create the “Calumet Burns Conservancy District” (“CBCD”), which will consist of the entire Little Calumet River watershed, which covers most of Lake County and parts of Porter County.  Surveyor Van Til plans to introduce identical ordinances to the City and Town Councils of all the communities that would be affected by his proposal.

If the Hammond Council passes this ordinance, a petition will be filed in the Lake County Circuit Court to begin the process of creating the CBCD.  If the petition is successful in the Circuit Court, and the CBCD is created, the responsibilities and costs associated with maintaining the newly constructed levee will fall to the leaders of the newly created district.

The leadership of the CBCD will be elected from the landowners within the watershed.  Since all communities that send water to the Little Calumet River will be assessed a fee, all communities should be represented on the CBCD.  Currently, 4 out of the 5 members of the LCRBA reside in Munster.  This is unfair to residents of the watershed, when 80% of the board is from one community. On the other hand, the CBCD calls for 9 elected members, 8 of whom reside in different parts of the watershed (1 elected member will be an at-large member).  This system is not only more fair, it is also more representative of the entire watershed.   The levee system and its maintenance is a regional problem, and each community affected by this problem should have a say in the solution.

The CBCD proposal is less expensive than the proposal offered from the LCRBA as well.  Because landowners from both sides of I-65 will be assessed a fee under this proposal, the pool of funds available will be larger, which means everyone will pay their fair share.  Under the initial proposal brought in statehouse this year, landowners from east of I-65 weren’t assessed a fee at all, even though their water contributes to the river level just as much as landowners from west of I-65.  That imaginary boundary was wisely removed from the CBCD and the entire watershed is included in the proposal.  Outside of political considerations, there was never any rationalization for the exclusion of the landowners east of I-65.  Their water contributes to the problem just as much as water from west of I-65.

Overall, I feel that the CBCD approach is a wiser course for the watershed to take than the current format.  Currently in Indiana, there are over 120 Conservancy Districts, with a few of them right here in Lake County.  What is unusual is the composition of the LCRBA, with 100% of the appointments appointed by the Governor, 100% of the appointments coming from a single political party (Republican) and 80% of the appointments coming from a single community.  The operating and maintenance costs, of the Little Calumet River, is a local issue that should be handled locally.  I am asking the communities along the river to educate themselves on this issue and consider Mr.Van Til’s proposal.  In my opinion, it is a fair and local solution to this pressing local problem.

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Mar 10 2011

Mayor McDermott Responds to Unilever Lack of Community Responsibility

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has issued the following comments in response to recent statements made by Unilever plant manager Brad Tieke to the Times of Northwest Indiana on March 6, 2011. In that article, Mr. Tieke claimed that the company did not cause a blockage in Robertsdale area sewers after it discharged 100,000 pounds of fat and grease from its factory.

I am shocked, dismayed and disappointed by Mr. Tieke’s remarks. Unilever’s assertion that their dumping more than 50 tons of grease and fat into city sewers was not the cause of the New Year’s Eve back up into nearby homes is ridiculous. As Mayor, I believe that we need to focus on solutions, and not the assignment of blame. As an attorney, I understand the reluctance of some companies to openly admit wrongdoing due to a fear of lawsuits and legal action. However, the preponderance of evidence in this particular case is so obvious that any claim of plausible deniability is absurd.

Perhaps Unilever could learn from other Hammond industries as to the proper manner in which to respond to such accidents. For example, when a leak occurred in an underground pipeline last August in South Hammond, BP Oil immediately took responsibility for the problem and has worked diligently to clean up the spill and to restore the affected neighborhood. At no time did BP suggest or blame anyone else for the leak. BP’s actions have earned respect from the City and residents alike. Instead of acting in a responsible manner like BP, Unilever is now seeking a foil for their mistakes by blaming the City and the Hammond Sanitary District for the backup.

Robertsdale residents have long tolerated frequent odors, noise and disruptions produced by the plant. Instead of being cognizant of the disparate impact that the company has on local residents, Unilever is now suggesting that dumping more than 100,000 lbs of grease and fat down city sewers is nothing out of the ordinary. Every homeowner knows that pouring grease and fat down the drain will cause backups and blockages. It is unconscionable to suggest that Unilever representatives failed to realize the impact of dumping massive amounts of such waste into City sewers.

As Mayor, I cannot accept Mr. Teike’s errant comments. Instead, I hope that Unilever corporate executives will review Mr. Tieke’s statements and accept responsibility for their action. I call on Unilever to consider the needs of local residents who have been unfairly inconvenienced by the Company’s actions over their own concerns for protection against possible litigation.

I look forward to a constructive dialogue with the Company on how to find permanent solutions to the problem so that such an unfortunate event never occurs again.

For questions in regard to this statement, please contact Rick Calinski, Chief of Staff at 219 853-6301.

No responses yet

Mar 07 2011

State of the City Address

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

My annual Sate of the City Address is tonight. For the first time in the history of Hammond we will be broadcasting live over the Internet.

I will be addressing the public beginning at 6:00pm in the lobby of Hammond City Hall at 5295 S. Calumet Avenue. The public is welcome to attend, but if you can’t, please watch the  live broadcast here.

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Feb 11 2011

Keeping Hammond’s Neighborhoods safe, one address at a time.

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

Nothing ruins a neighborhood like a bad neighbor, and everyone knows that bad neighbors drive good ones out.   Now, not everyone has the same taste, or ideas about how to live, and one person’s tub in the front yard filled with flowers is another person’s eye sore, but some things, such as criminal conduct, cannot and will not be tolerated by the City of Hammond.

About a year ago, I began what has now successfully become known as the Nuisance Property Project.   I was fortunate that the Hammond Municipal Code allows the City of Hammond to cite a property owner for Maintaining a Nuisance, Use of Real Estate for Illegal Activities and, what we find most commonly, Landlord Ignoring Illegal Activity on the Premises.  What the City found is many landlords live out of Hammond, even live in other States, and really have no idea, nor any concern, for the rent paying tenant that is terrorizing the neighborhood in which we all live.

What the Nuisance Property Project does, is allows the City of Hammond to cite the property owner for the tenant’s criminal acts occurring on the property they own and should be maintaining. The landlord has a choice, pay a fine, or evict the troublesome tenants.  Some of the properties have been so badly maintained that the City has been forced to demolish them.   Most of the landlords have, begrudgingly, complied, and those who have not have been fined in the Hammond City Court.    To date, 83 properties, most owned by out of town landlords, have been cited to appear before the Hammond Judge, and thanks to the hard work of the Hammond Police Department, the City has had no trouble making its case before the Judge.

If you have a nuisance property in your neighborhood, please let us know, we’re here to help you. Please feel free to offer any suggestions or request information you would like to see added. Email us at: mayor@gohammond.com.

One response so far

Oct 12 2010

“Their Place” or “Our Place”?

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

In keeping with the City’s policy of non-toleration of nuisance properties, the City of Hammond appeared at the Local Liquor Board hearing in Crown Point and formally demonstrated against the renewal of the Liquor License of the bar known as Our Place, located at 1403 Michigan.

Our Place was the scene of a shooting this past May, where two individuals were shot five times by an unknown gunman.  Following this shooting, Hammond Police and State Excise visited the bar and during this visit, illegal drugs were located on the premises.  Based upon the evidence of illegal activity, the Lake County Liquor Board voted to deny the renewal of Our Place’s Liquor License.  This recommendation is subject to approval or denial by the Indiana ATC in Indianapolis, who has the right to make the final determination. Recently LaRosas and Copper Penny received one year, rather than two year, license renewals from the Lake County Liquor Board based upon complaints of violations occurring on the premises.

Hammond will continue to work hard to improve the quality of life for all its residents.

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Oct 07 2010

Nipsco’s electric rate increase

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

This week, Gov. Mitch Daniels fired the Chairman of the IURC, David Hardy, for the agency’s blatant toleration of an obvious conflict of interest between the regulators (the IURC) and the utility industry (Duke energy).  In this case, Chairman Hardy looked the other way while one of his employees, who was supposed to be regulating Duke Energy, instead took a job with the energy company.  Are we supposed to believe that this employee was actually doing his job regulating Duke Energy while he was courting them, trying to obtain employment?

This “cozy” relationship between the Utility industry and the IURC is bad for us regular people, or the “ratepayers” as we are referred to in these proceedings.  A perfect example is the 17% electric rate increase that was recently granted to NIPSCO from the IURC.  In this environment, granting a request of this magnitude is unfathomable.  I’m surprised Nipsco had the audacity to ask for such an increase.  However, I am more surprised that the IURC actually granted Nipsco’s request.

How could the IURC do such a thing to us ratepayers in such a terrible economic environment you may ask?  Would you be surprised to learn that in this the Nipsco case, like in the Duke Energy case, a former employee of the IURC, and a good friend of Chairman Hardy, was hired last month to work for Nipsco?  This man, David Hadley,  was a commissioner on the IURC under Gov. Daniels.  This man is also a very good friend to Chairman Hardy.  Gov. Daniels did the correct thing by terminating the Chairman to the IURC, these obvious conflicts of interest cannot be tolerated.

Four of the five IURC Commissioners were appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels.  Our Governor has also been a champion for a smaller, more transparent government.  Now we learn of a scandal at the IURC where the Commissioners are plotting with the utility industry to obtain employment, which is a clear violation of the Indiana Code.  While this jockeying is happening, the IURC is deliberating over whether Nipsco will be granted a large increase in their electric rates.  Something is wrong with this picture.

Gov. Daniels had ordered a review of all cases pending before the IURC that involved Duke Energy because of the clear conflict-of-interest that involved the regulatory agency.  I’m hoping that the Governor will take the same approach with the large electric rate increase granted to Nipsco, in light of Nipsco’s recent hiring of a former IURC Commissioner.  These conflicts of interest cannot be tolerated, and they involve more cases than just Duke Energy.  What’s right is right Gov. Daniels, we’re asking you to reverese the decision of the IURC granting Nipsco this electric rate increase until an investigation into these improprieties is conducted.

2 responses so far

Oct 19 2009

County Courts and Downtown Hammond

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

I understand as much as anyone the need to cut back local government spending in these difficult economic times. Recently, a proposal at the county level has arisen that needs to be reconsidered and hopefully refused.

The County Commissioners have announced their intentions to potentially close the satellite courts and the offices that serve them throughout Northern Lake County. This would mean the current county offices at 232 Russell Street in Hammond would become empty. We cannot allow this to happen.

First off, we have to recognize the benefit of having the county court in Hammond to the local taxpayers. This building served an important role in last years historic election, as a satellite early voting faculty. And without an existing consistent regional mass transit system, forcing everyone to go to South County for government service would make it virtually impossible for some to have any reasonable access to their county government.

Next, we have to look at the potential economic effects of this loss on its immediate surroundings. Downtown Hammond has long been under served as a business community. In my 6 years in office, I have worked very hard at bringing that community back to Downtown Hammond. Progress has been slow, but steady, and the area has been gradually coming back. However this proposal to close the County Building in Hammond could bring all of that progress to a halt, and could take a vital link out of the economic food chain of that area.

The County Building currently has three court rooms in it. The County Clerk, Sheriff, Treasurer and Commissioners all have offices in that building as well. Beyond that, there are over a dozen law offices in that immediate area, that are there specifically to serve the County Court, as well as the Federal Courthouse in Hammond. Between all of the employees and patrons of the County building and offices that serve it, thousands of people are in Downtown Hammond every day.  These people are a large part of the customer base that the local restaurants and shops depend on to stay in business. If you take away the Hammond County Court building, you take away one of the biggest economic assets in Downtown Hammond.

Yes, consolidating the County Court system may in fact reduce county payroll cost and may result in a few pennies of annual savings for property tax payers throughout the county. But the economic cost of shuttering more businesses in Downtown Hammond, and more private sector jobs leaving Hammond because of it, simply isn’t worth those few pennies.

And has anyone looked at the cost of building new structures, or the renovation of the current government center in Crown Point to accommodate the moved courts?

This is a plan that would be very destructive to the City of Hammond, and as the Mayor I must strongly oppose it. I hope you will share that opposition with me, and respectfully let your elected county officials know of your opposition.  Feel free to contact my office to get the contact information on your Lake County Commissioner.

One response so far

Apr 09 2009

Floodwalls or Football Stadiums?

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

The culture in the State Legislature has sometimes been referred to an “us” versus “them” where the “us” is Indianapolis and the “them” is the rest of the state.  Although there has been progress on some issues, the latest bailout proposal for Indianapolis by increasing our taxes has me scratching my head again, wondering if they really think we don’t see what is going on.

Everyone in Lake County, and around the state, is aware of the terrible flooding that occurred here last September.  Homes were lost, lives were changed, and people watched everything they had ever worked for disappear under water.  Incredibly, almost no work has been done on the floodwall since the flood, unless you count finger-pointing and debate.

Shortly after the flood, I presented a proposal to properly fund the floodwall project.  I suggested that we divert the sales tax from generated from Cabela’s as a local match for the levy project.  Hammond is in a unique position to do this because Cabela’s happens to sit in the only “Sales Tax Increment Financing District” (STIF) in Lake County. This STIF district has been in existence since the 1980’s, yet it has never once been used.

The proposal seemed to make sense: use local sales tax to fix a local problem.  This plan would have brought in about $5 million annually.  With the total local cost estimate of around $16 million to finish the floodwall project in its entirety, it was plausible that, in a few years, the floodwall project would have been completed, and our homes would have been protected.  The resulting economic development of the Cabela’s site (which has been on hold until the levy project is completed) would more than make up for the “temporary” loss of revenue Indiana would have experienced under this plan.

This plan was well received by the Republican Town Council in Munster, the Hammond City Council, Frank Mrvan, the North Township Trustee, and his Advisory Board.  Yet one this idea reached Indianapolis, it was immediately rejected.

State Representative Ed Soliday, of Porter County, stated that “…there is no support [for the use of STIF]… That is not sales tax increment financing [McDermott’s] talking about; that’s sales tax diversion.”  The Governor’s office flatly admitted, “it’s unlikely the state would look favorably on the proposal.”  In other words, the idea of using sales tax money on a local project, even a project of such vital importance as flood protection, was not even considered by Indianapolis.  That is, until they needed to fund a local project of their own.

The Indianapolis Capital Improvements Board (ICIB), which operates Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, has found itself $50 million dollars in the hole.  A combination of poorly estimating costs and lower attendance than expected resulted in this financial pickle.  So what solution do Governor Daniels and our state government, who were so completely opposed to using sales tax dollars to build a floodwall, come up with? You guessed it—they proposed to use sales tax to bail out the stadium authority.

The governor’s plan would double the state liquor tax on every Hoosier and allow the ICIB to capture around $5 million in sales tax to help finance their deficit.  Interestingly, the amount of sales tax the ICIB would capture under this proposal was almost exactly the same amount of sales tax revenue we were seeking to build the flood walls.

We cannot ignore the blatant double standard being used by our state government, not to mention the completely skewed priorities.  The suggested bailout of the ICIB is yet another illustration that the City of Indianapolis’s problems are statewide problems, but our local problems must be handled ourselves.  And that a stadium is apparently more important to our state government than the safety and welfare of Northwest Indiana residents.

Maybe we should take the advice of a local radio commentator and build a football stadium in Cabela’s parking lot.  We would probably draw larger crowds than the current facilities in Indianapolis and we’d surely have the Governor’s support for capturing the sales tax generated in that STIF district.

One response so far

Apr 07 2009

Looking forward to Summer!

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

Snow in April! While certainly not unheard of here in Hammond, but still no cause for celebration after a seemingly very long, very cold and very snowy winter.  I’m sure many Northwest Indiana residents are looking forward to warmer weather and more time outside, but even the Mayor can’t control the weather.  Spring and Summer are busy times in Hammond, the Hammond Optimist Baseball Opening Day Ceremony is just around the corner now on April 25th, as well as the 5th Annual Cinco De Mayo Fiesta at the Hammond Civic Center on May 1st.  Shortly after that starts the car shows, parades, fishing derbies, Venetian nights, fireworks, block parties and other special events which are part of summer life in the Region, but for me, summer is always highlighted by the Hammond Festival of the Lakes.

This year’s Festival of the Lakes, which runs from July 14 to July 19 promises to be one of the best Festivals ever.  I was very impressed by the top rate quality entertainment scheduled to play this year, my special events coordinator really outdid herself.  The Festival kicks off again this year with the very popular Tuesday night Evening of Dreams Odyssey Dinner Cruise.  In addition to the beautiful view of the Chicago skyline, the music and food make this a sellout event year after year.  In keeping with the family friendly theme of the Festival of the Lakes, the Carnival Mega Pass will once again be offered, as well as plenty of food and games.

The highlight of the Festival will once again be the five consecutive nights of free concerts featuring top name acts.   On Wednesday July 15th Together will open for Boys II Men, on Thursday, the Spin Doctors will open for the Gin Blossoms, on Friday, Lake County’s own Nicole Jamrose will open for Randy Travis; on Saturday, History’s End will open for the Black Crowes and Sunday is the always popular Latin Night with the Tellstars opening for Los Lonely Boys.  There is so much planned for summer, if only it would hurry up and get here.

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Mar 04 2009

Hammond, Celebrating the First 125 years.

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. under General

Logo
Age, they say is relative.  On April 21, 2009, the City of Hammond Indiana turns 125 years old.   One hundred and twenty five seems old unless you compare it with Rome which was founded in 753 B.C., Moscow founded 1147 A.D. or even in our corner of the world San Juan, P.R. founded in 1521 and Saint Augustine, Florida established in 1565.  But Hammond looks good for 125 and there is no reason to think this City is even hitting middle age any time soon.With every decade, every century, comes changes.  The Hammond of 1884 is far different from what we see today.  Back in the 1880s this area was famous for the slaughter houses and the residents numbered around 700. Hammond at first didn’t have an official name and the name of the City was ultimately chosen following a coin toss. Some things remain from that era, including St. Joseph Church, St. Margaret’s Hospital and Oakhill Cemetery, but most of the City has been built and rebuilt since that time.

I am pleased to be the Mayor of a City with so much History, and look forward to leaving some small mark of my own as Hammond progresses into its second Century.   A new century brings new challenges and priorities.  The City that once dumped slaughterhouse waste into the river ways, now contains a major recycling center, environmental center, restored ecosystem at Wolf Lake, and will be one of the first Cities in the County to experiment with harnessing wind power for energy.  Industrial areas remain but are complemented with new parks, sports complexes, trees and green spaces. Where brown fields once existed, environmental cleanup and remediation opens new areas of the City to development and enjoyment, and a new RDA assisted project will revitalize Hammond’s Lake front.  I wonder what the next 125 years will bring, I can’t say for sure, but I am sure it will be wonderful.

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