Hello Merrillville residents, neighbors, constituents, and friends. I thought it would be nice to send a report on how things are going in our Ward, and Town, since I took office in January of 2020. Yes, 2020, that dreadful year when in March we all learned that our lives would change due the COVID-19 virus reaching the United States. We got hit hard in our state, and especially in Lake County, where we all had to take precautions against this deadly virus.
As of March 1, 2022, our state is out of the ‘red’ and for the first time in many months we are in the ‘yellow’ category which basically means that our hospitalizations are down to controllable amounts and our infection rate is lower. It brought me NO pleasure in having to close town governmental offices and buildings, mandate face covering wearing, and have employees work from home, except for our emergency workers and our dedicated Public Works crews. They stayed on the job to keep us all safe during these very difficult times.
Now we can relax a little as our nation gets a handle on this virus and can hopefully get back to normal, or whatever our ‘new normal’ will look like moving forward.
Speaking of moving forward; we have relaxed our mask/face coverings mandate making them now just optional. If you would like to continue wearing your mask, that’s okay with us and all town buildings including the Dean and Barbara White Community Center, Stormwater Management, Public Works, and the Pruzin Center Police Training Facility. This also applies to the North Police Sub-Station. It will be nice seeing everyone’s face again! We continue to hope that we are through the woods with COVID and realize that we’re all tired of it. Be well.
It’s time to ready any of those left-over tree leaves for the Town’s Spring Clean-Up program. Our leaf vacuum truck will pass through all neighborhoods ONE TIME to get any leaves that you rake to the parkway area or grass next to your street. Please do not rake leaves into the street, but just on the grass area next to it. Leaves should be in a narrow row/pile so our special trucks can vacuum them for you. We have divided the town into two sections. Please have your leaves ready on your designated week.
After the one-time pass through for left-over leaves, our Public Works department will start our new Branch PickUp Program. This program started after I took office in 2020 and will provide service from May 1st through September 30th. Branches will be picked up that you trim yourself. The program is not for complete tree removals and any branches larger than 6 inches
in diameter will not be picked up as they won’t fit inside our tree chipper equipment.
It is meant to allow residents to keep trees trimmed and to have a way to dispose of the branches. With over 12,000 homes in town, the program can only spend a maximum time of 20 minutes per household. Super large piles will be finished on the next trip. Crews will drive through each neighborhood on a continuous basis but please note that your branches can be sitting near your curb for up to 4 weeks depending on where the crews are located when you actually place your branches at the curb. Please stack branches neatly running in the same direction (trunk end all together) for easy removal. Reminders about these great programs are below. Remember, nothing should be in the street.
Did you know that Merrillville was the first Lake County Community to declare Juneteenth as a paid holiday and a day off for town employees. We also read a Proclamation in 2021, the Tuesday prior to President Joe Biden signing a bill into law that officially designated Juneteenth as a federal holiday each year on June 19th. We will be hosting a variety of celebration activities that we’ll celebrate this year on June 18th due to the way the calendar falls this year. Festivities will be held at the Dean and Barbara White Community Center. I’ll post a blog post soon with all of the details as it is just now being planned; but I know we’ll have a couple bouncy houses for kids, musical groups, and food vendors at or near the field at the Dean and Barbara White Community Center. Should be a lot of fun!
We are excited to bring back the Town’s Independence Day Parade after a two-year break due to COVID and reduced town funds due to the pandemic. This year’s parade route will start in a different location and travel south instead of north down Broadway. Parade entries, bands, and cars will be staged at 11:30 a.m. at the new Dean and Barbara White Community Center at 6600 Broadway. The Parade will begin at 1:30 p.m. and will travel down Broadway south to 80th Place. The town judges’ stand will be in front of town hall. All groups, schools, and businesses are welcome to participate in the parade and we welcome floats, dance/musical groups, bicycles, decorated cars and motorcycles. Below is an application link.
Applications are due by June 15, 2022. Please send applications by mail to: Community Center, 6600 Broadway, Merrillville, IN 46410 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org You may also drop off in person at the Town Administration Office inside Town Hall at 7820 Broadway.
No application may be accepted after the deadline of June 15, 2022 (6/15/22) and all applications must have participant approval by the Town Council Special Projects (Parade Committee). We hope to offer Fireworks this year July 3rd. The town is currently working on the location and I’ll report back as soon as locations plans are finalized. We are in discussions now with 2 to 3 different locations. We hope to see you on the 3rd for the Fireworks Show & the 4th for the Independence Day parade.
Note: There is no fee to be in the Parade. Please see the download button below for more details about the Independence Day Parade.
You may download a PDF of the Parade Application & Sponsorship Form by clicking the button. We hope to see YOU at the parade!
We are continuing our aggressive street paving program for this summer. With an estimated $5M in paving projects we will be working in Ward 2 and Ward 6 this summer, while also adding some streets that were not done last summer in the other Wards. The summer of 2021 we paved $5M worth of neighborhood streets in our Ward 5, and in Wards 1, 3, 4, and Ward 7.
I have asked that 86th Avenue in Sedona be added to the paving list since it had a recent repair done due to a broken stormwater drain. This would allow the busy road to be repaired properly without a road patch that usually can become an issue later. Details to follow.
There are also a couple streets in Chapel Hill Farms that were not done due to the weather changing on us last year. Those streets will be addressed this year also. Our streets in general have experienced a tough winter as we have had many freezes and thaws this winter due to our weather. It is the freezing and thawing that causes expansion and contraction to the pavement causing cracks, potholes, and other damage. Crews have been out to patch and fill potholes; but we know that is a temporary fix. We will look at a more permanent solution on roads as needed.
Mississippi Street from 93rd Avenue to 101st Avenue will be completed this year with the final finishing coat of asphalt and proper road markings. The road is currently open for traffic.
Cities and Towns across America have all qualified to receive federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package or American Rescue Plan. At Town Hall, we simply refer to it as ARP. It was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, to speed up the country’s recovery from the economic impact and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession that it contributed to since March of 2020. The graphic to the right indicates the impact that this plan will have on all American families.
We were very pleased to learn that Merrillville’s award would be over $7.8M. Or exactly $7,855,078.07. With our annual operating budget each year of around $11M, that is quiet a windfall of funding. The funds though, need to be spent in very specific ways as the intention is to help the town ‘bounce back’ from the effects of the pandemic. We formed a special ARP committee made up of some town council members, and some department directors of the town to design a large variety of spending plans that would qualify for the program.
To date, we have used funds to incentivize town residents to either get, or complete, or get their COVID-19 booster/vaccinations. About 200 residents used that program getting a $50 Visa Gift card after they offered proof of residency and proof of the vaccination. We plan to use some of the funding to purchase new police vehicles like squad cars and a rapid response vehicle. When we had to close town offices, we realized that we didn’t have the necessary tools needed to allow employees to work from home, we never had to even consider that in past years! Purchases of laptop computers and other portable office equipment made that possible.
We have purchased a generator for the Town Hall as well as are planning upgrades to our HVAC system to filter air circulated inside the building for added safety. Touchless water faucets in all bathrooms will be installed again adding to public safety. Incentive programs for residents are currently being reviewed to give back ARP funds in the form of residential grants so you could repair your homes if you suffered from income loss due to COVID-19. The fund will also allow us to upgrade equipment in your Police Department and other town departments.
Below is a listing of what the committee has approved as well as what amount of the fund has been already spent. The committee is open to your ideas and suggestions. Please email me with your thoughts. email@example.com
The Merrillville Community School Corporation has joined with the Town to offer the “Adopt-a-Cop” program. Each elementary/intermediate school will be partnered with a Merrillville Police Officer who will visit the school (20 hours) for the remainder of the school year. Our off-duty officers will visit classrooms, read to students, have lunch with students, and even play at recess. This will provide an opportunity for officers and students to build positive relationships that in-turn can benefit the school community and community at-large.This is a wonderful opportunity to build community and allow students to interact with our wonderful Merrillville Police force. I’d like to personally thank the officers participating:
Sergeant Croakin – Iddings Elementary
Sergeant DeSalle – MIS
Corporal Curtis Minchuk – Miller
Officer Bronowski – Wood Elementary
Officer Bradley – Salk Elementary
Officer Hensley – Fieler Elementary
We will be reviewing neighborhood streets and creating ordinances to help traffic flow and street parking. At times this winter our snowplow trucks could not even drive down streets to plow snow due to the parking on both sides creating a narrow lane. Even without snow issues, some streets are difficult to drive down or create blind spots for drivers. We will see if the possibility of one-way streets could help, as well as parking allowed on one side only. But, this will need study so we don’t negatively impact neighborhoods. Parking has become a hot topic now as it seems more families are living together and young adults are staying home longer than past years. Sign of the times?
For our major throughfares, we will also be seeking an engineering study to see how we can make traffic flow better. One recent example is the traffic signal at 57th Avenue and Broadway where there is NO turn arrow. After all these years INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) will do a project there to update the light adding left turn arrows. There have been many accidents there over the years and hopefully this will correct that issue.
The study would also include a review of all traffic signals in town. I see some areas where the left turn arrow just doesn’t last long enough, only allowing 2 to 3 cars to pass before turning red. Some of this can be simple timing adjustments to make things better. I’d also like to see almost all traffic signals offering a right turn arrow. I see cars waiting at lights that may not need to do so. We all know that Merrillville has traffic, so why not make it flow the best it can?
We will continue our efforts to beautify Merrillville by adding pleasing esthetics to town projects. We began with the flower and scrub plantings in the center planters on 93rd Avenue. That design is now being duplicated in front of Town Hall on Broadway. We’ve added large flowering basket hangers on the light poles at Town Hall which will this spring/summer display flowering baskets. The same design will be installed at the Stormwater Resources building on Broadway, as well as in front of the new Dean and Barbara White Community Center. This approach allows our town to look better than the usual all-pavement look and feel that Merrillville has been known for. Yes, we have vibrant commercial districts, but some color and well place trees can really make a difference.
Bridge signage is also under investigation by the council to add ‘MERRILLVILLE’ to the overpass bridges in three different locations. This will identify to visitors where Merrillville is located and again set a tone of pride for our town. Other town like Valparaiso, Michigan City and Lebanon have successfully done this with great results.
A tree planting and replacement program is underway with an aggressive goal of replacing old or adding 500 new trees all over town. Overgrown trees in some of the town’s older neighborhoods will be removed. These trees are causing damage to existing storm sewers, raising sidewalks, and even damaging streets in some areas. In our Ward, some trees will be removed for safety in the older neighborhood of Independence Hill. New and replacement trees planted will be of different varieties that grow at a slower rate and do not have the large roots that can cause damage. The varieties will also be better suited for use in our regional climate.
We will be upgrading street intersections allowing them to assist us in town beautification. We started with 93rd Avenue and Merrillville Road with the installation of lit street signs. We love how they look and will now be pursuing this look all the way down Broadway at every intersection. It not only assists motorists with seeing the street names better, but it also provides a modern feel and look for the town.
Painted crosswalks are another important upgrade like the back-lit signage. We installed painted cross walks at the intersection of Merrillville Road and 93rd Avenue. This again not only really highlights for motorists that there is a crosswalk to keep an eye out for pedestrians, but it also adds some color to the intersection, again helping to give the town a more modern feel. These low-cost esthetics can help keep housing values up as it sets the tone for the entire town.
We were fortunate, or some might say ‘unfortunate’, in 2021 as building development in our town exploded. Construction workers were considered essential workers and were able to keep working even during the most difficult times during COVID. Areas in the Ameriplex at the Crossroads (area south of 93rd Avenue), east of Broadway, west of I-65, and north of 101st Avenue saw many new developments. In 2021 Merrillville issued 1,572 building permits totaling just under $100M in estimated construction costs. These were for new buildings, interior and exterior remodels of existing businesses, and parking lot improvements. This included several properties that were redeveloped and improved along the Broadway corridor.
Growth in twelve (12) residential areas continued in 2021 including Hunter’s Glen South, Heritage North, Waterford, Prairie Creek, FoxMoor, Creekwood Crossing, Savannah Ridge, Savannah Cove, The Residence at Broadfield, Twin Acres, Liberty Estates, and August Manor.
Larger commercial project improvements in new large commercial buildings in Ameriplex at the Crossroads included:
Project Axle at $12M
Precision Turbines at $2.3M
Domino’s Pizza Dough Processing at $23M
Candlewood Suites Improvements at $250k
Mielle Organics at $1.9M
Food Bank of NW Indiana at $389k
Methodist Hospital Improvements at $850k
Midwest Truck & Auto Parts at $1M
Quality Pasta at $2.5M
Speculative Warehouse Building at $14.7M
Lamar Outdoor Improvements $1.4M
Gordon Food Service Remodel at $1.6M
BRS Lot 39 at $800k
Amazon Distribution at $30M
The Monarch Flats & Townhomes – located at 93rd Avenue and Taft Street. This project promises to be Northwest Indiana’s unmatched choice for luxury living. Centered in the middle of one of the most desired places to live, The Monarch is a thoughtfully designed multi-family community perfect for those who want vibrant experiences while creating new friendships and keeping lifelong community connections.
The residents will indulge in resort-style elegance, beautiful top-of-the-line amenities and communal spaces for all ages. Combining a great quality of life with purposefully curated and unique moments creating a lifestyle like no other. This is the new ‘apartment life’ being sought by many now, not simply a first place to live while building your permanent home.
This project will also address one of my promises to either fill or remove large empty buildings in our town. The site is where the closed Strack and Van Til / Ultra Foods supermarket(s) were located. Other stores have also operated there in the 65,000 square foot building. The entire strip mall center will be demolished to make room for this new development which should be a much better use for this prime real estate location. This project is estimated to cost $55M. A developer backed bond was issued in the amount of $10M to assist with the demolition and infrastructure work needed for this project. This type of bond has no risk to the town, the town budget, or taxpayers.
Liberty Estates located west of Chapel Hill Farms, Heritage North and Foxmore, and south of US 30.
This project will start site work this year and will use new temporary construction-only roadways to keep construction traffic away from the existing neighborhoods. This is a common approach to building so that there is little impact to existing homes, roads, and neighborhoods. This project is planned to take over 10 years to fully develop.
This estimated $120M project will also provide an upscale living environment consisting of housing options for residents of all ages. Liberty Estates will promote economic development and quality of life through creating a large scale walkable and green development with easy accessibility to neighboring retail shopping and restaurants.
It will include upscale single-family residences, maintenance free patio homes, luxury paired villas, leased apartment homes and a self-storage facility primarily for the convenience of the residents.
It will be a 107 acre PUD (Planned Unit Development) with an emphasis to employ local businesses. This plan approximates 25 acres of residential single family housing, 24 acres of single family cottages, 17 acres of paired villas, 5 acres of supporting residential storage, and 36 acres of retail development. It will include common social structures such as a pool and playgrounds, multiple social areas of walking/biking paths, central landscaped boulevard and the implementation of green/sustainable practices like rain gardens, rain barrels and other similar items. This project will also have part of the funding provided by a Developer backed bond, again with no risk to the town, the town budget, or residents.
We have been struggling getting new police car ordered filled. We have committed to purchasing twelve (12) new cars for our force that will replace older model year Ford Explorer Police vehicles. Right now, we have a mix of vehicles although mostly Ford Explorer’s, we recently had to purchase Dodge Durango’s as Ford could not fill our orders.
New vehicles will include Ford’s and Dodge Durango’s. Cars will be marked with the new ‘Ghost’ lettering that actually reflect light at night allowing the markings to ‘glow’ in the dark; great for safety and visibility. Funding for the new cars will be from a blend of the American Rescue Plan and one of the Town’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts. The council has had great success finding creative ways to fund large purchases like vehicles and Public Works trucks and equipment saving taxpayers money in the general fund. We will continue these efforts to utilize funding sources in different ways.
Built during the COVID year, we were excited to open the new center on March 1, 2021. It is hard to believe that it has been one year since opening.
Besides being there each day for Merrillville residents to use (for free) the Methodist Hospital Fitness Center and all of the machines and free weights that it has to offer, residents have been more and more enjoying the walking/jogging track, also free to residents. The center has hosted large events like Volleyball, Basketball, Pickleball, and MMA tournaments, Football games at the Weiss Field and many non-sporting events inside the Mike Anderson Chevrolet Event Center. We continue to make improvements and finish our design ideas for the space. The Parks and Recreation Department now has its own website: merrillvilleparks.com
This almost ready newly designed website will serve as the one place to go online to learn about the many programs being offered, sporting events, music events, and other news. The center is temporarily hosting the Boys and Girls Club of NW Indiana until they can either find or build a new facility for their needs. The Council is working with them so the program could continue. Merrillville High School buses provide service after school hours to the center so students are not just wondering the streets after school or trying to walk to the center and crossing busy Broadway. Be sure to stop by just to see this amazing facility. After all, it’s yours to use as you’d like.
Thank you for reading my, no, OUR newsletter. I hope you found it informative. Please let me know if you have any recommendations on any topics not covered here for future newsletters. I would like to keep you all informed as to what is happening in our great town. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to sign up for my blog so you are notified each time I post a new story. Just click on the BLOG tab at the top to go to that page. There you can quickly sign up. Thanks again and… let’s keep in touch! -Rick Bella