Town Code Ordinances to be Updated as Growing Pains hit Merrillville

My how things have changed. Merrillville’s growth over the past 50 years or so has more than doubled. When the town began, back in December of 1972 there were only 16,000 residents in the town boundaries. Today, just under 37,000 call Merrillville home, and each day, over 100,000 visit our town to work, play, and shop at our retail-rich developments.

Our founding leaders started Merrillville very conservatively and only offered services like Police, Street Department (to plow snow mostly), and Planning. This allowed the initial tax rate to be very low which helped ‘sell’ the idea that Merrillville needed to become its own town. This approach worked but came to haunt the town as the very next year (1973) the State of Indiana initiated a frozen tax levy. The simple explanation is that one levy limit, enacted in 1973, restricts growth in property tax revenue for each taxing unit, except for school districts, to the lesser of 6 percent or the average annual growth rate of Indiana non-farm personal income in the previous six years.

The newest levy limit, also known as an overall tax cap or circuit breaker, caps overall tax bills of individual parcels at a certain percentage of gross assessed value. Property tax bills cannot exceed 1 percent of gross assessed value for residential homesteads, 2 percent for residential non-homesteads, and 3 percent for all other property. The taxpayer does not pay any amount more than their cap limit, which consequently creates a revenue loss for the units of government. There are no provisions for coordinating revenue shortfalls among the units of government (Ross and Dinges 2014).

If your head is spinning now, that’s okay. It’s complex, but what it means is that Merrillville could not increase taxes at a rate to cover needed service increases as the town grew. We started with only 16 police officers. Today, 61 sworn officers keep us safe. From about 30 employees to now over 160, Merrillville has grown! We now have many other departments to keep up with town growth including, Parks and Recreation, Code Enforcement, Animal Control, Economic Development, and Human Resources.

As growth continues, so does our need to monitor and keep on top of today’s business environment. Our town codes need to be updated to keep pace with the changing landscape of development and even residential living changes. Let’s be honest, we no longer need a town ordinance to address video stores! They are gone now. Or record stores, and a host of other businesses that don’t even exist any longer. But we have new businesses now, like smoke shops, storage units, and other businesses that didn’t even exist a short time ago.

The town is planning to have a review of all town codes to update, eliminate old codes, and add new codes that are pertinent to today’s world. We need to be able to create codes that will allow the town to enforce and guide these new types of uses. We also want to edit our list of permitted uses that can open in town zoning areas. Removing and restricting permitted uses will allow the town to review business petitioners who want to open a shop in town. This will give the town more say in what and who comes to our town to provide services.

This process will take time and there is a need to have it all vetted through our town attorney to make sure we have a legal standing to create and then enforce new town codes. But it needs to be done. We have started the process, but the slow pace and shotgun approach has not worked well. We need to concentrate on a program to once and for all, update town codes for today’s world. We have come a long way in the last 50 years, it is time now to get ready for the next 50! -Rick Bella, Town Council President

To learn more about Indiana taxes visit the link button below. 

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