By Lauren Zeugner
SYRACUSE — Alan Tio, CEO of Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation, provided an update on the organization to the Syracuse Town Council during its monthly meeting Tuesday night, July 21.
Accompanying Tio were members of his board including Kim Cates, Brad Jackson, Doug Rassi and Suzie Light.
Tio told the council KEDCo was working on a small business recovery loan program with $245,000 awarded by the state and $100,000 awarded by the county council and county commissioners, to help local businesses with recovery.
The program already has a loan committee and a basic frame work in place. Councilman Larry Siegel asked how many applications the program has received and how much money has been loaned. Tio said six to eight applications have been approved with another 24-28 in the pipeline. Approximately $60,000 to $80,000 has been loaned to applicants.
Tio then spoke about a housing initiative KEDCo is launching. Taking the research the Kosciusko Community Foundation and county officials have done recently on housing stock in the county, KEDCo is encouraging the development of workforce housing. These would be starter homes or homes a step up from a starter with a list price of $125,000 to $250,000.
The idea of the initiative is to work with communities to find areas for housing development and then find developers to actually build homes in those areas.
Siegel asked why KEDCo just doesn’t approach developers. Tio said KEDCo wanted to work with towns to see where they would like housing, the idea is to create “shovel ready” properties for home developers to build on. Again Siegel asked why KEDCo wasn’t in front of developers. He also noted most developers have their own teams that go into communities and do the groundwork Tio was suggesting Kedco take on.
Tio claimed developers are interested in building workforce homes but are too busy to do the groundwork. KEDCo would help with the pre-development work. Tio also said KEDCo was establishing a steering committee to tighten up the methods in attracting developers.
“We have that data already, let’s get in front of developers,” Siegel said. Councilman Bill Musser who attended the meeting via phone asked how much Kedco wanted Syracuse to contribute for this initiative. Tio said $25,000 from the town and KEDCo would contribute $25,000 with the town being paid back at some point.
“We’re lake locked,” noted Council President Paul Stoelting. “We haven’t any land in town (to build on)…but do you really need a committee to do that? In all likelihood, we need things going in the next year or so. We don’t have time for steering committees… Why wouldn’t you go to a realtor and purchase a property?”
Siegel asked what KEDCo would be doing for $50,000. Tio said property options, environmental assessments among other things.
Siegel also pointed out the area lacks property owners who want to sell their property. “Property for sale with a four mile radius of Syracuse could be developed. The killer is infrastructure costs,” said Stoelting.
“If it’s not in town it doesn’t benefit us,” Siegel said. Stoelting pointed out annexation is also difficult.
Councilman Tom Hoover asked what benefit Kedco was offering when the Syracuse Redevelopment Commission is already looking at the situation. Musser also pointed out infrastructure costs being prohibitive.
“There’s no doubt we need housing. I don’t think this is the method,” Stoelting said. The issue was eventually tabled.
Tio’s last bit of business was to present a one-page overview of KEDCo. He also presented the 2021 agreements and asked the town to invest 6% of its Economic Development Income Tax income or $15,000 in KEDCo.
Councilman Tom Hoover noted the town has cut all of its line items back in its budget. He then made a motion to donate $5,000. Tio pointed out this was not a donation but an investment.
Musser stated he wanted to see how the $10,000 the town invested in KEDCo in 2020 benefitted the town before approving $5,000 for 2021.
Tio listed a number of projects including Polywood’s expansion. “Alan really worked his tail off to help Polywood decide to stay,” said Jackson.
“The thing about Alan is he has a mild manner… We were out of here but Alan changed my mind,” said Rassi. “This gives you a chance…. He says let’s get our game on. There’s no way NIPSCO would have come through or these politicians. I would love to see you give this beautiful town and do something dynamic.”
Musser responded saying the town is also putting millions into the Polywood expansion while risking its neck at the same time.
After some more discussion, the council approved investing $5,000 in KEDCo and returning to the matter at a later date.
In department reports Town Manger Mike Noe asked to approve Kimple and Associates out of Warsaw to do the engineering for the new ball field. Kimple’s quote was $30,000. The council also approved to pay half of $16,489 to Mike’s Fencing for fencing along the water control device.
In public works a new lift station is now operational. The cost was $41,000. Two pumps were also replaced on the county line due to sanitary debris.
A new security system has been installed at the street department, water department and wastewater department.
Pulver Asphalt has been in town paving and fixed a standing water issue out on Pickwick Drive. A study of Harkless Drive to Chicago is underway to find a way to drain standing water from the area to the wetlands without the need for a pump.
The council approved $9,300 for a new jackhammer for the street department.
Police Chief Jim Layne reported his officers are wearing masks while on patrol and especially when entering someone’s residence.
Chad Jonsson, park superintendent reported little league baseball is wrapping up and there aren’t many programs going on this summer. There is a geocache hunt. The Farmers’ Market is seeing a decrease in vendors and shoppers.
Jonsson was questioned about his budget request for merit raises for employees. He said he wanted a way to reward an employee who goes on to get a certification. “We need to keep people who do those things,” he said.
Siegel suggested to Noe that the town’s comprehensive plan needs to be updated. Noe said he would like to get that done yet this year.
In new business, Musser reminded everyone the Honorable Dawn Wilson, administrative law judge, will be in Syracuse at 3 p.m. Thursday, regarding the Turkey Creek Dam and Dike Conservancy.
Bill Pipp, a member of the conservancy board, requested a copy of the letter of support from the council to give to his attorney to present to the judge. After some discussion about what the letter should contain, Stoelting said he would make the necessary changes and get it to Pipp.